Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
Helen Humes - jazz vocalist. There's only a handful of artists who can define themselves that way and even fewer who have had as long a career as Humes, who appears at Waaay Off Broadway through Sunday.
Humes, beaming and genial at 65, made her first recording in 1927 with pianist James P. Johnson and hit her stride in 1938, when she succeeded Billie Holliday as lead vocalist in Count Basie's Band. Forty years later, the jump-blues feeling is still evident in her approach.
Humes' strengths are her immensely stable phrasings and her ability to imbue each tune with a proper yet relaxed beat. For instance, on the two ballads she chose," My Funny Valentine" and "My Old Flame," she minimized the jazz inflections that were abundant on more up-tempo standards such as "Don't Worry. About Me" and "Take All of Me"
Humes' energy and enthusiasm were most apparent on two tunes. Fats Waller's classic homage to marijuana, 'If You're a Viper," and the singer's own risque hit, "Million-Dollar Secret" With eyes shut and ears extending the compatible jazz trio into a big band, it was easy to drift back four decades to radio broadcasts, grand ballrooms and the guard dames of jazz. Helen Humes has lost little of her skill and vitality. By all means, hear her and enjoy.