On Wednesday, July 30th, 2014, The Jazz Gallery is proud to present legendary singer Jon Hendricks for a very special performance. Hendricks is one of the most influential vocalists in the history of jazz and has been duly recognized with an NEA Jazz Master honor, multiple Grammys, an Emmy, a Peabody, and even a French Legion of Honor award.
Hendricks is perhaps best known for popularizing the technique known as vocalese, which is the setting of lyrics to an established jazz instrumental. Vocalese comes in many forms, and Hendricks explored all of them. With partners Dave Lambert and Annie Ross in the pioneering vocal group Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, Hendricks would write lyrics to whole big band compositions, including those of Count Basie and Duke Ellington. On their 1957 album Sing a Song of Basie, the group used overdubbing to turn the Count’s tunes into choral numbers both virtuosic and witty.
Not all examples of vocalese are orchestral in nature, though; sometimes a single singer adds words to a preexisting instrumental melody or improvised solo. These lyrical additions frequently take the form of tributes, like Hendricks’s lyrics to Benny Golson’s tune “I Remember Clifford,” a tribute to trumpeter Clifford Brown here performed by Carmen McRae on her 1958 album Carmen for the Cool Ones.
In addition to tributes, expert vocalese singers can turn instrumental solos into rapid-fire retellings of famous stories. On a 1961 album of the music of Duke Ellington, Lambert, Hendricks & Ross tell the children’s story of Peter Rabbit set to the music of the Duke’s “Cottontail.” Hendricks takes center stage here, singing tenor saxophonist Ben Webster’s famous solo from the 1940 Ellington recording.
In addition to being one of the major innovators of jazz singing, Jon Hendricks may be among the most interesting people in the jazz world, always reinventing himself and crossing paths with the world’s glitterati. Hendricks grew up in Toledo, Ohio, just a few doors down from the legendary stride pianist Art Tatum, whom Hendricks would study with. Beyond his work with Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, Hendricks had a successful solo career. In 1960, he created a musical for the Monterey Jazz Festival called Evolution of the Blues Song, which later had successful runs in San Francisco and Los Angeles. In 1966, he recorded a song called “Fire in the City” with a fledgling rock band called The Warlocks, who would go on to find much success under a different name: The Grateful Dead. In 1968, Hendricks and his family moved to London, where his sold-out performances would attract fans like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
After relocating to the Bay Area a few years later, Hendricks became the jazz critic at the San Francisco Chronicle and taught at Sonoma State University and UC Berkeley. He created and narrated a documentary for CBS called Somewhere to Lay My Weary Head that won Emmy, Iris, and Peabody awards. He continued to make records and in 1985 collaborated with the vocal jazz group Manhattan Transfer on Vocalese, featuring Hendricks’s lyrics and arrangements from his days with Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. The record would go on to win 7 Grammys.
But perhaps the most impressive of Hendricks’s latter-day recordings is his vocalese version of Miles Davis’s iconic “Freddie Freeloader,” featuring Bobby McFerrin singing pianist Wynton Kelly’s solo, Al Jarreau singing Davis’s, George Benson singing Cannonball Adderley’s, and Hendricks singing John Coltrane’s, all set to Hendricks’s lyrics.
Beyond his many accolades, Hendricks is regarded for his generous spirit, enormous collection of old stories, and wicked sense of humor. Don’t miss your chance to hear this living jazz legend on the Gallery’s stage!
Jon Hendricks performs at The Jazz Gallery on Wednesday, July 30th, 2014. Mr. Hendricks will be accompanied by Steve Ash on piano, Neil Miner on bass, and Andy Watson on drums. There will be one set ONLY at 9 p.m. $30 general admission ($15 for Members). The Jazz Gallery SummerPass cannot be used for this event. Purchase tickets here.
***For more information on Jon Hendricks, check out this interview on the NEA’s Jazz Master’s website.