Jimmy Forrest (24 January 1920 – 26 August 1980) was an African American jazz musician, who played tenor saxophone throughout his career. He recorded frequently as both a sideman and a bandleader.
Forrest is famous for his first solo recording of ‘Night Train’, which reached No. 1 on the Billboard R&B chart in March 1952 and stayed there for seven weeks.
At the beginning of his career, he played alongside Fate Marable and, in the 1940s, he played with Jay McShann, then Andy Kirk, before joining Duke Ellington in 1948.
During the 1950s, he played and recorded with many musicians, including five albums for Prestige and New Jazz – Forrest Fire, Out of the Forrest, Sit Down and Relax, Most Much! and Soul Street.
Forrest topped the Billboard R&B chart in 1952 with ‘Night Train’. In 1954, this was adopted as the theme song – and name – of a nightly rhythm and blues radio programme in Houston, Texas.
In 1952, he also played with Miles Davis, and with trumpeter Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison in 1958–1963. In the early 1960s, Forrest teamed up with organist Jack McDuff and recorded swinging albums Tuff ’Duff and The Honeydripper for Prestige.
After a period of freelancing, Forrest became a major soloist with Count Basie’s orchestra during 1972–1977. In the years before his death he co-led a quintet with trombonist Al Grey.
This clip from the 1979 film Last of the Blue Devils features Forrest performing an extended version of ‘Night Train’ with the Basie Orchestra.