I’m not as well-versed in vocal swing as I would like to be (my knowledge begins and ends with Glenn Miller and his contemporaries), so I actually have never even heard of Helen Humes before stumbling upon her for this challenge. This was another one of those singles where I simply could not find an image of the record sleeve or cover, so I simply used a photo of the artist herself. As this image would gleefully suggest, she was well known for her vibrant and cheerful singing style, demonstrated in such upbeat recordings as “Be Baba Leba” and “Woojamacooja”. She began her career as a teenage vocalist, recording from as young as thirteen years of age. After making her name for herself across a number of venues in Cincinnati, she eventually found herself performing and recording a number of ballads with Count Basie’s orchestra. After receiving widespread acclaim for this role, she embarked upon a solo career which made up the bulk of her output throughout the rest of her life.
Although she was well known for her more upbeat jazz and swing numbers, she also demonstrated a seasoned versatility to work across downbeat, bluesy numbers as well. “Time Out For Tears” is a vocal jazz standards, having also been recorded by Dinah Washington, Nat King Cole, and The Ink Spots, among others, though Helen Humes’ 1948 recording – one of the last official singles of her career – is one of the earliest recorded versions of this particular song. Lyrically, it falls strictly in line with any number of heartbreak vocal jazz of its time (or any time, really): “Time out for tears, because I’m thinking of you / Time out for tears, my darling, now that we’re through”. Contrary to Dinah Washington’s impassioned performance, where she performs the song in her signature crescendoing style, Humes opts for a much softer, more sensitive interpretation of the material.
And the choice to perform the song this way is what makes it even more interesting, I think. The first couple verses are defined by the speaker’s melancholy over her lover leaving her (“I never wanted our plan to end”; “My heart is yearning for you”); by the second half of the song, though, she declares that she’ll try to move on “and dance and dine, playing with somebody new”, even though her own heartache still lingers. Washington’s performance, at these parts, have just about peaked in intensity, giving off a positive, uplifting end to a song where we, the listeners, are confident that she’ll pull through okay. With the sparse and moody production, arrangement, and performance of Humes’s recording, however, there is this sense of absolute sadness that introduces itself from its first note and persists all the way until the last. It’s less concerned with its lyrics of overcoming heartbreak, and more involved with the pervading mood given from the heartbreak itself.
I really wish I had heard of Helen Humes before I came across her for this challenge. Her upbeat swing records are among the most jovial and consistent in this era, but even as she changes up her keys for this more gloomier melody, she consistently delivers. I would even be confident in comparing her to the likes of Billie Holiday, which isn’t a comparison I’m often willing to just throw around. She has a voice like silken honey and I’d totally love to check out more of her recordings – especially more of her slower, sadder material from her jazz or blues catalog, like this one.