Jon Hendricks helped create the singing style known as "vocalese," or crafting songs and lyrics out of the note sequences of famous jazz instrumental solos, as a member of the great jazz vocal ensemble Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. A gifted lyricist, he has added words to classics by Count Basie, Horace Silver, Miles Davis, and Art Blakey, brilliantly mirroring the instrumental effects.
He largely grew up in Toledo, Ohio, one of 17 children. His singing career began at age eight at parties and dinners. Later he sang on a radio show on which he was occasionally accompanied by another Toledoan, the great pianist Art Tatum. Returning home from service in the Army, he studied at the University of Toledo and taught himself to play drums. In 1952, he relocated to New York and found his initial work as a songwriter, working for such artists as Louis Jordan and King Pleasure. One of his earliest recordings came on a version of the Woody Herman band feature "Four Brothers."
His collaboration with vocalist Dave Lambert began in 1957 when he rerecorded "Four Brothers," which led to their association with singer Annie Ross on a collection of Count Basie songs. Sing a Song of Basie, using innovative multitracked arrangement of vocals, became a hit when released in 1958 and gave birth to Lambert, Hendricks & Ross as a full-time act. They subsequently toured with the Basie band and were a top-selling act for nearly four years, until Ross left the band. Lambert and Hendricks continued for a while with new singer Yolande Bavan, eventually breaking up in 1964. Hendricks found work as a soloist, then moved to England in 1968. In the early 1970s he put together another trio, this time with wife Judith and daughter Michelle, an arrangement he has occasionally revisited over the years.
Evolution of the Blues, an extended stage work Hendricks had first performed with Lambert and Ross at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1960, went on a fiveyear run at the Broadway Theatre in San Francisco in the 1970s. Thereafter he took a variety of university teaching positions in California, and continued to work with Judith, Michelle, and youngest daughter Aria, with occasional male singers such as Bobby McFerrin, Kevin Burke, and Miles Griffith. He has written for and played with the Manhattan Transfer, a jazz vocal group heavily influenced by Hendricks. Also, he was one of three singers in Wynton Marsalis' Pulitzer Prize-winning oratorio, Blood on the Fields. He has written lyrics to a number of jazz standards, including "Four," "Hi Fly," "Along Came Betty," "Desifinado," and "No More Blues." In 2000, he was appointed distinguished professor of jazz studies at the University of Toledo in Ohio. A documentary about Hendricks' time in the military, Blues March: Soldier Jon Hendricks, was released in 2009.
Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, Sing a Song of Basie, Verve, 1957
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