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Rhythm & Blues Saxophone: The Masters-Part 3: Jimmy Forrest

Updated: Apr 17, 2023

Jimmy Forrest recorded Night Train in 1952, a Rhythm & Blues standard which to this day remains a staple of the R& B and soul saxophonists repertoire.

James Robert Forrest Jr. (January 24, 1920 – August 26, 1980) was an American jazz musician, who played tenor saxophone throughout his career. Forrest is known for his first solo recording of Night Train, which reached No. 1 on the Billboard R&B chart in March 1952, and stayed at the top for seven weeks. "Hey Mrs. Jones" (No. 3 R&B) and "Bolo Blues" were his other hits. All were made for United Records, for which he recorded between 1951 and 1953; he recorded frequently as both a sideman and a bandleader.”

It would be impossible to understate the significance of Night Train. A 1952 #1 hit, give it a listen here on Youtube if you are not familiar with Jimmy’s signature tune.

Night Train, a 12-bar blues instrumental, was first recorded by Jimmy Forrest in 1951. A big band version recorded by trombone player Buddy Morrow also reached #27 on the pop charts. The song quickly became popular with R&B and Rock and Roll instrumental groups. The Viscounts also had a hit with it in 1960.

A simple blues in the key of Ab Concert, the melody utilizes a repeating low Bb on the tenor sax, the instruments lowest possible note.

Take a look at the transcription above and note that there really is no true improvisation to this tune, just some simple riffs that fit the 12 bar blues pattern, played soulfully with a fat, full tenor sound. If you listen carefully you can hear the reverb, or echo, slap back, on the low Bb in particular. This is an example of the early “Grits and Gravy” tenor sound, sometimes also referred to as the “Texas Tenor” sound. Characterized by a robust tenor sound, extensive use of blues phrases and some honking low register notes as well as screaming high notes, this style is the foundation for the Rock and Roll saxophone sound that players such as King Curtis, Maxwell Davis, Red Tyler, Joe Houston, Big Jay McNeely and many others exploited on records and in live performance in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

James Brown also recorded a version of Night Train that is quite famous, here is a link to JB’s version:

Jimmy Forrest was also an accomplished pure jazz saxophonist who worked with the Count Basie Band. He made several straight ahead jazz records in his long career. His discography is well worth investigating for tenor players looking to find the stylistic nuances that jazz, blues and R&B demands.

Learn Night Train and play it often on any gig, it’s a crowd pleaser and a piece of Rock and Roll history.

Thanks for stopping by my blog…..Markos

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