Welcome to Afterglow, I’m your host, Mark Chilla.
This week on the show, I’ll be celebrating Jon Hendricks, a jazz icon who would have turned 100 years old on September 16th. Hendricks was a singer, composer, but most of all a groundbreaking jazz lyricist. In the 1950s, he and his group Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross took the jazz world by storm, by performing fun and clever vocal versions of famous instrumental jazz tunes, all with lyrics by Hendricks. I’ll be chronicling Hendricks’ entire career in this next hour.
It’s Jon Hendricks: The Poet Laureate Of Jazz, coming up next on Afterglow
MUSIC: Jon Hendricks, "Out Of The Past"
Jon Hendricks with “Out Of The Past” by Benny Golson from his album A Good Git-Together from 1959.
Mark Chilla here on Afterglow. This week, we mourn the loss of we’re celebrating a jazz icon, Jon Hendricks, the gravelly-voiced poet laureate of jazz, who helped revitalize vocal jazz for a new generation in the late 1950s. Hendricks passed away at age 96 on November 22, 2017. Hendricks would have turned 100 years old this week. This hour, I’ll be chronicling his career.
The song you’re hearing right now is “I’m In The Mood for Love” the old Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields song, as recorded by saxophonist James Moody in Sweden in 1949. This recording plays an important role in the development of Jon Hendricks as an artist, and I’ll explain why in a moment.
Jon Hendricks was born in Toledo, Ohio in 1921. He was a preacher’s son, which may say something about the singer’s gift of gab. He started singing at a very young age, and soon became famous as a child star around Toledo. At the time, he received one of the best jazz educations around: private lessons with his neighbor, jazz pianist Art Tatum.
Hendricks was drafted into the army during World War II Hendricks found his way to New York City to pursue a career as a jazz singer. It was Charlie Parker, who he met in Toledo, who told Hendricks to move to New York.
His early career got off to a slow start. He wrote a few songs here and there, but Hendricks didn’t possess a naturally beautiful voice. He had a great sense of rhythm, but a raspy, gritty tenor voice. Then one day in 1952, while sitting at a coffee shop, he heard this song, a vocal version of that James Moody saxophone solo we were just listening to.
This song is called “Moody’s Mood For Love,” with new lyrics by Eddie Jefferson, and performed by the mysterious one-hit wonder known as King Pleasure. This is the art of vocalese, adding new lyrics to an existing instrumental jazz solo. Hendricks said that hearing this new vocalese style struck a chord in his soul. It was from then on he focused his songwriting energy on composing vocalese lyrics.
In 1954, he recorded one of his first attempts at vocalese lyrics alongside King Pleasure and Eddie Jefferson. It was the Stan Getz tune “Don’t Be Afraid.” Hendricks had a way of taking just the title of the song and constructing an entire story around it. In this case though, he made one alteration to make it fit with Getz’s music: he changed the title from “Don’t Be Afraid” to “Don’t Get Scared.”
Here’s that recording now. Jon Hendricks, Eddie Jefferson, and King Pleasure with “Don’t Get Scared,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC: King Pleasure, "Don’t Get Scared"
King Pleasure, Eddie Jefferson, and Jon Hendricks in 1954 performing the tune “Don’t Get Scared.” The music there is based on a saxophone solo by Stan Getz, with new vocalese lyrics by Hendricks.
Jon Hendricks’s biggest success came alongside jazz singer Dave Lambert. Lambert was a pioneer in bebop vocal jazz from the 1940s, and Hendricks made a point to get in touch with him so they could collaborate. With Lambert’s gift of vocal arranging and Hendricks gift for writing vocalese lyrics, they began to construct vocal versions of their favorite jazz songs, like Jimmy Giufree’s “Four Brothers.”
They began to arrange the music of Count Basie, and soon landed a deal to record it with ABC-Paramount. They put together a choir, but the singers couldn’t swing. To help train the choir, they brought in singer Annie Ross, a singer and comedienne who also recorded some vocalese in the past. The choir still didn’t work, so Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross decided to just record it themselves. They were over budget, the stress had put Hendricks in the hospital, but the trio went into the studio and overdubbed their voices to make them sound like a 12-person choir.
The result was the album Sing Along With Basie, and it became the breakout hit of 1958. The trio Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross was born.
Here’s Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross performing a track from that album now. This is the Count Basie song “Everyday (I Have the blues),” on Afterglow.
MUSIC: Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross, "Everyday"
Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross with “Everyday,” a song from their 1958 album Sing Along With Basie.
We’re exploring the career of Jon Hendricks this hour. After the success of Sing Along With Basie, the trio continued to explore what they could do, although without the hassle of overdubbing their voices.
They all brought their strengths to the table: Annie Ross was a gifted singer and dynamic performer, Dave Lambert was a brilliant vocal arranger, and Jon Hendricks was the poet. Hendricks began to vocalese versions of songs by Duke Ellington, Horace Silver, and more, showing off his gift for clever wordplay and storytelling. He crafted entire stories just based on the title of the song and the notes provided by famous jazz solos.
I’ll play some of Hendricks’ finest vocalese lyrics now. We’ll hear songs originally performed by Art Blakey (Horace Silver) and Duke Ellington in just a bit, but first here’s Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross with their version of the song “Cloudburst,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC: Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross, "Cloudburst"
MUSIC: Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross, "Moanin"
MUSIC: Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross, "Cottontail"
The story of Peter Cottontail, as told by Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross in 1960. That was Duke Ellington’s song “Cottontail” with lyrics written and performed by Jon Hendricks. Before that we heard Lambert, Hendricks and Ross in 1959 with “Moanin’” and “Cloudburst,” both with lyrics by Jon Hendricks.
Jon Hendricks became a master of writing these vocalese versions of existing jazz songs, but his creative energy didn’t just stop there. He wrote original songs too. Some of Hendricks first lyrics were for Louis Jordan, the comic jump blues artist. And many of his original songs are in that Jordan vein: funny, upbeat, and usually about food or alcohol.
Here’s Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross now with one of those Hendricks originals. This is “Gimme That Wine,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC: Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross, "Gimme That Wine"
Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross in 1959 with the Jon Hendricks original “Gimme That Wine.”MUSIC CLIP
Coming up after the break, we’ll continue our centennial celebration of singer and lyricist Jon Hendricks, looking at some of his solo work. Stay with us.
I’m Mark Chilla, and you’re listening to he Poet Laureate of Jazz, A Jon Hendricks Memorial, on AfterglowMUSIC CLIP
Welcome back to Afterglow, I’m Mark Chilla. We’ve been exploring the career of the late Jon Hendricks this hour, the so-called Poet Laureate of Jazz.MUSIC CLIP
What you’re listening to is a work written by Dave and Iola Brubeck called The Real Ambassadors. It’s a musical from 1962 all about civil rights, and the role jazz played in spreading American culture around the world during the Cold War. The Brubecks got some of the biggest names in jazz to record this jazz musical, including Louis Armstrong, Carmen McRae, and Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross—the stars of vocal jazz and pioneers in the art of singing known as vocalese.
Unfortunately, this collaboration would be one of the final times that the trio would record together. By the end of the 1950s, almost as soon as they joined forces, the group began to splinter as Dave Lambert, Jon Hendricks, and Annie Ross would each begin to pursue solo projects. Lambert and Hendricks did record a few more times with some Annie Ross replacements like Yolande Bavan. But then Dave Lambert died in an automobile accident in 1966. Jon Hendricks’ long-time musical partner was gone, and he was left to make a career on his own.
I’ll explore some of the later career developments of Jon Hendricks in the remainder of this program, as he became both a solo artist and an elder statesman of the jazz singing style known as vocalese.
But first, I want to play one of Hendricks’ first solo recordings, and it comes from 1959. It’s an album of his own tunes he recorded with folks like guitarist Wes Montgomery and saxophonist Cannonball Adderley called A Good Git-Together. Here’s a song that became a standard, with music by Gigi Gryce and with lyrics by Jon Hendricks. This is “Social Call,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC: Jon Hendricks, "Social Call"
In the 1960s and 1970s, Jon Hendricks career moved in different directions. He spent time in England, gaining a following there, and embarking on tours around Europe and Africa. He later moved back to the states, where he began to teach jazz at a few colleges in California and critique jazz as a reviewer for The San Francisco Chronicle. He also created a stage show in 1974 called Evolution of the Blues, which chronicled the history of African-American music…MUSIC CLIP
… During this time in the 1960s and 70s, Hendricks also made guest appearance on a few records with artists like Thelonious Monk and Stan Getz. I’ll play some of those guest spots now, beginning with a track he recorded in 1968 with Thelonious Monk on Monk’s album Underground. This tune was one of Monk’s classic compositions called “In Walked Bud,” and Hendricks added the vocalese lyrics for this session. The “Bud” referred to here is bebop jazz pianist Bud Powell, and Hendricks’ lyrics play on a familiar trope in vocalese jazz music: a song all about the history of jazz itself.
Here’s Jon Hendricks and Thelonious Monk with “In Walked Bud,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC: Thelonious Monk and Jon Hendricks, "In Walked Bud"
MUSIC: Stan Getz/Jimmy Rowles - "The Chess Players"
The Wayne Shorter song “The Chess Players” with lyrics by Jon Hendricks. That was from the 1977 Stan Getz and Jimmy Rowles album called The Peacocks. Jon Hendricks was singing there, along with his wife Judith, his daughter Michelle, and Stan Getz’s wife Beverly.
During the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, Hendricks performed most often with his family, including his wife Judith and his children Michelle, Aria, and Eric. These family members make appearances on groups he created called Jon Hendricks and Company and Jon Hendricks and his All-Stars, recreating the magic he made with Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross.MUSIC CLIP
… that’s a live recording from 1995 at the Blue Note featuring Jon, Judith, Michelle, and Aria Hendricks.
Besides making his own music, Jon Hendricks also became a revered figure in jazz and an elder statesman of the art of vocalese. In 1985, he won a Grammy award with the Manhattan Transfer and Bobby McFerrin for the Manhattan Transfer album Vocalese and the song “Another Night In Tunisia.” Vocalese featured all songs with lyrics by Jon Hendricks.MUSIC CLIP - Manhattan Transfer, "Another Night In Tunisia"
Jon Hendricks’ career lasted well into the 21st century. He continued to perform... with his family, with Annie Ross, and with singers from the generation that he inspired, like Kurt Elling, and Darmon Meader from the New York Voices.
Jon Hendricks passed away at age 96 on November 22, 2017, as one of the most accomplished and acclaimed jazz singers of all time. He embodied jazz. He was honored by the National Endowment for the Arts as a Jazz Master in 1993. Critic Leonard Feather called him “The Poet Laureate of Jazz” for his monumental contributions as a jazz lyricist. And singer Al Jarreau called him “pound-for-pound the best jazz singer on the planet...maybe that’s ever been.”
I’ll close off this tribute to Jon Hendricks by playing one of his later recordings. This comes from a guest spot he did on Kurt Elling’s 1999 album Live In Chicago. There’s a remarkable bit of history with this song, “Goin’ To Chicago Blues.” This song was first made famous by Count Basie and his Orchestra way back in 1941, featuring vocalist Jimmy Rushing and trumpeter Buck Clayton. In 1958, Basie recorded it again with Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross on the album Sing Along With Basie. On that recording, Basie’s current singer Joe Williams takes over Rushing’s original vocal part, and Jon Hendricks does a vocalese version of Clayton’s trumpet solo, with his own original lyrics.
And in this torch-passing version from 1999, Kurt Elling takes over Jon Hendricks original vocalese role, with Hendricks on the melody once sung by Jimmy Rushing and Joe Williams.
Here’s Kurt Elling and Jon Hendricks with “Goin To Chicago,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC: Jon Hendricks and Kurt Elling, "Goin To Chicago"
Jon Hendricks and Kurt Elling live at the Green Mill in Chicago in 1999, performing the Count Basie classic “Goin To Chicago Blues,” a tune Hendricks wrote new vocalese lyrics to back in 1958.
Thanks for tuning in to this Jon Hendricks tribute centennial celebration on this week’s Afterglow.
Afterglow is part of the educational mission of Indiana University, and produced by WFIU Public Radio in beautiful Bloomington, Indiana
Playlists for this and other Afterglow programs are available on our website. That’s at indianapublicmedia.org/afterglow.
I’m Mark Chilla, inviting you to tune in next week for our mix of Vocal Jazz and popular song from the Great American Songbook, here on Afterglow