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Aka Jelena Ana Milcetic

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Album Review

Helen Merrill has never been afraid to take chances, but the veteran jazz singer is especially ambitious on Jelena Ana Milcetic — an autobiographical (or at least semi-autobiographical) work that draws on jazz, pop, and folk as well as traditional Croatian music. This is an extremely personal CD, and to fully appreciate it, you should know something about Merrill's background. Although she was born and raised in the U.S., her parents were Croatian immigrants — Jelena Ana Milcetic is the Croatian name she was given at birth, but the jazz world has known her as Helen Merrill. The singer (who was 68 and 69 when this CD was recorded over a five-month period in 1999) learned a lot of about Croatian culture from her parents, and by calling this release Jelena Ana Milcetic, she is celebrating her heritage. But the album is also a celebration of Merrill's American heritage. By housing jazz, pop, folk, and Croatian elements under the same roof, the New Yorker acknowledges her parents' homeland as well as her U.S. upbringing. This isn't a release that caters to jazz purists — although some of the material is very jazz-oriented (especially Merrill's interpretations of "Among My Souvenirs" and "Lost in the Stars"), some of it falls outside of jazz. But as unpredictable and eclectic as this album is, the CD never sounds confused or aimless. From Judy Collins' "My Father" to Michel Legrand's "Nobody Knows" to the traditional Croatian song "Ti Si Rajski Cvijet," everything fits together perfectly. Jelena Ana Milcetic is among Merrill's most impressive accomplishments.


Born: 21 July 1930 in New York, NY

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

A fine singer with a warm, expressive voice, Helen Merrill's infrequent recordings tend to be quite special with plenty of surprises and chance-taking. She started singing in public in 1944 and was with the Reggie Childs Orchestra during 1946-1947. Merrill, who was married for a period to clarinetist Aaron Sachs, had opportunities to sit in with some of the top modernists of the time, including Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Bud Powell. She was with Earl Hines in 1952 and started recording regularly...
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Aka Jelena Ana Milcetic, Helen Merrill
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