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Sing A Song Of Annie Ross

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MUSIC CLIP - OSCAR PETERSON, "MOONGLOW"

Welcome to Afterglow, I’m your host, Mark Chilla.

At the end of July, the world lost one of its most beloved jazz singers, the great Annie Ross. Ross was perhaps best known as one third of the jazz vocal trio Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross, an innovative ensemble whose hip vocalese style took the jazz world by storm in the 1950s. Annie Ross was an icon and innovator outside of the trio—she was also an actor and solo singer with a soulful sound, who understood how to swing better than most female vocalists of her day. This week, I’ll pay tribute to Ross, playing for you some of her best work from the 50s and 60s.

It’s a Sing A Song Of Annie Ross, coming up next on Afterglow.

MUSIC - ANNIE ROSS, "I'M JUST A LUCKY SO AND SO"

Annie Ross in 1959 with Duke Ellington’s “I’m Just A Lucky So and So.” Russ Freeman was featured there on piano and Bill Perkins on tenor saxophone.

MUSIC CLIP - WINGY MANONE, "LOCH LOMOND"

Mark Chilla here on Afterglow. On this show, I’m paying tribute to jazz singer Annie Ross, who passed away in July at age 89.

Annie Ross seemed to be destined for fame from the beginning. Born Annabelle Short in 1930 in England, the daughter of two vaudeville entertainers, she was already acting by age three. By age four, after a trip to New York, she had won a contract with MGM. With a budding career on the horizon, her parents decided to let her live in America with her maternal aunt, who just happened to be the famed Scottish actress and singer Ella Logan, who you may know as a star in the original Broadway production of Finian’s Rainbow.

The little Annabelle Logan became famous as a child star, who among other things, sang a swingin’ version of the Scottish tune “Loch Lomond” on an Our Gang short film (aka, The Little Rascals). When she was a teenager, she changed her name to Annie Ross, and began to pursue a singing career back over the pond in Europe.

MUSIC CLIP - WARDELL GRAY, "TWISTED"

She eventually landed a contract with Prestige Records, which put her on the ground floor of a new craze called “vocalese.” Prestige had also signed the bizarre entertainer known as King Pleasure, who was crafting new lyrics to existing jazz instrumental solos. Ross made her own vocalese record for Prestige in 1952, adapting the 1949 jazz tune by tenor saxophonist Wardell Gray called “Twisted” with her own new lyrics. With a title like “Twisted,” Ross was inspired to write a song about seeing a psychoanalyst, despite having never seen one herself. The song became an underground hit.

Let’s hear it now. This is Annie Ross with her original 1952 version of “Twisted,” on Afterglow.

MUSIC - ANNIE ROSS, “TWISTED”
MUSIC - ANNIE ROSS, “FARMER’S MARKET”

Annie Ross in 1952 with two of her early vocalese songs. Just now, we heard her original vocalese version of Art Farmer’s “Farmer’s Market.” Before that, her vocalese version of the Wardell Gray song “Twisted,” recorded for Prestige Records. “Twisted” became a hit for Annie Ross, earning her a Down Beat magazine award for Best New Star, and inspired another generation. Singers as disparate as Bette Midler, Mark Murphy, and Joni Mitchell recorded their own versions of it.

MUSIC CLIP - JONI MITCHELL, “TWISTED”

Annie Ross continued her solo career, singing with Lionel Hampton’s band and continuing to make a name for herself in both Europe and America. It was while she was in New York that she got her next big break. It came in 1956, when jazz singers Jon Hendricks and Dave Lambert got in touch with her about a recording session. Hendricks was also a vocalese lyricist and Lambert was a bebop jazz innovator and skilled vocal arranger. They had the idea to turn the big band charts of Count Basie into vocalese music for a whole choir, and they needed Annie Ross’s help.

MUSIC CLIP - COUNT BASIE, "ONE O'CLOCK JUMP"

Lambert and Hendricks had hired a group of trained singers who could sight read the complex charts, but none of them could swing like Basie. They hoped that Ross could give them a lesson in rhythm. Ross knew it was a hopeless task, and despite her coaching, the recording session with the choir was a disaster. Hendricks later said of the choir, quote, “they couldn’t swing if you hung ‘em.”

They were left without a feasible recording and out of money. But then Dave Lambert had the idea of using the fairly new technique of over-dubbing voices, using just the three of them—Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross—singing all the parts. This was cutting edge stuff at the time, and the trio made lots of mistakes trying to get it perfect. After several months in the studio (working for no money), they finally had a product. It was called Sing A Song of Basie, and when it was released in 1956, it set the jazz world on fire. People loved Hendricks’ clever lyrics, Lambert’s keen arrangements, and Ross’s acrobatic vocals, and held together by their perfect sense of swing.

I’ll play two songs from that original album now, both featuring Ross in the solo role. First, here is Lambert, Hendricks and Ross with Count Basie’s “One O’Clock Jump,” on Afterglow.

MUSIC - LAMBERT, HENDRICKS AND ROSS, “ONE O’CLOCK JUMP”
MUSIC - LAMBERT, HENDRICKS AND ROSS, “FIESTA IN BLUE”

Two songs from the 1956 landmark jazz album Sing A Song Of Basie. That was Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross with their vocalese versions of Basie’s “Fiesta In Blue” and “One O’Clock Jump,” both songs featuring solos by Annie Ross.

After the success of the original Sing A Song of Basie in 1956, Lambert, Hendricks and Ross became the toast of the jazz world. First, though, they dropped the idea of creating complicated overdubs and ended up singing as simply a trio. Together, they made television appearances. They were asked to sing for special projects, including Dave and Iola Brubeck’s concept album The Real Ambassadors.

MUSIC CLIP - LAMBERT, HENDRICKS, AND ROSS, "THE REAL AMBASSADORS"

And they ended up recording five more full length albums, including an album with Count Basie himself. On the album, called Sing Along With Basie, the trio was joined by Basie’s regular singer Joe Williams, who sometimes acted as a soloist, and other times joined them as a bass voice.

I’ll play one track from that album now, which highlights our woman of the hour Annie Ross. It’s the Neal Hefti tune “Lil’ Darlin,” made famous on Basie’s 1958 album The Atomic Mr. Basie. Using the lower part of her range, Annie Ross turns Wendell Culley’s muted trumpet solo on the original recording into a sultry, blue lament, making it sound like something completely spontaneous.

Here’s Count Basie, Joe Williams, and Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross in 1958 with “Lil Darlin,” on Afterglow

MUSIC - LAMBERT, HENDRICKS, AND ROSS WITH COUNT BASIE AND JOE WILLIAMS, “LIL’ DARLIN”

Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross, and Joe Williams with Count Basie’s Orchestra in 1958. That was their version of Neal Hefti’s “Lil’ Darlin.” That comes from the album Sing Along With Basie.

MUSIC CLIP - COUNT BASIE, "LIL DARLIN"

Coming up after a short break, we’ll hear more from Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross, and some solo recordings from our featured singer this hour, Annie Ross.

I’m Mark Chilla, and you’re listening to Afterglow

MUSIC CLIP - ZOOT SIMS, "INVITATION TO THE BLUES"

Welcome back to Afterglow, I’m Mark Chilla. We’ve been featuring music of the great Annie Ross this hour, who passed away in July at age 89.

MUSIC CLIP - LAMBERT, HENDRICKS, AND ROSS, "JUMPIN' AT THE WOODSIDE"

After her initial success with the groundbreaking jazz vocal group Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross in 1956, Annie Ross continued to make solo records. After all, she was a well established solo artist before she lit up the jazz world as part of the trio.

These solo records included an album with saxophonist Zoot Sims, an album of all songs from the new Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim Broadway musical Gypsy, alongside the Buddy Bregman Orchestra, and a handful of sessions with saxophonist Gerry Mulligan.

I’ll start this next set with a clip from those Mulligan sessions, which are some of the best cool jazz recordings from the late 1950s.

Here’s Annie Ross and Gerry Mulligan with the Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler tune “Between The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea,” on Afterglow.

MUSIC - ANNIE ROSS AND GERRY MULLIGAN, “BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA”
MUSIC - ANNIE ROSS, “LET ME ENTERTAIN YOU”

A sultry Annie Ross in 1959 with the song “Let Me Entertain You,” by Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim. That comes from an album of all songs from the 1959 Broadway musical Gypsy, featuring the Buddy Bregman Orchestra. Before that, we heard Ross and saxophonist Gerry Mulligan with the jazz standard “Between The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.”

In the late 50s and into the early 60s, Ross continued to record with Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, creating vocalese versions of well-known jazz tunes, as well as keeping an international touring schedule. It was grueling work that ended up breaking up the band by 1962, although Ross’s own drug and health problems also contributed.

I want to play a few more recordings from Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, featuring Annie Ross in a solo role. And I’ll start with a track from their 1961 album Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross Sing Ellington. Here, Ross does a vocalese version of Barney Bigard’s clarinet part while Dave Lambert does his best Herb Jeffries impression.

This is Lambert Hendricks and Ross in 1961 with Duke Ellington’s “I Don’t Know What Kind of Blues I’ve Got,” on Afterglow

MUSIC - LAMBERT, HENDRICKS, AND ROSS, "I DON'T KNOW WHAT KIND OF BLUES I'VE GOT"
MUSIC - LAMBERT, HENDRICKS, AND ROSS, "JACKIE"
MUSIC - LAMBERT, HENDRICKS, AND ROSS, "CHARLESTON ALLEY"

Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, featuring Annie Ross in some solo spotlights. Just now, the Charlie Barnet tune “Charleston Alley,” from the 1959 album The Hottest New Group In Jazz. Before that, a vocalese version of another Wardell Gray tune, called “Jackie,” from the 1959 album The Swingers. And starting that set, Duke Ellington’s “I Don’t Know What Kind Of Blues I Got,” from Lambert Hendricks and Ross’s 1961 Ellington tribute album.

There’s one more brief snippet I want to feature from Annie’s Lambert Hendricks and Ross days, and that comes from the group’s 1962 Grammy Award winning Columbia album called High Flyin’. It’s the trio’s interpretation of Horace Silver’s hard bop tune “Come On Home,” and it shows off just how great Annie Ross was. When you’re trying to sing a saxophone or trumpet solo it’s somewhat straightforward. It’s a single melody line, the ranges of these instruments are somewhat limited, and a phrase is limited by the player’s own breath. Not so, though, when you are trying to imitate a piano part!

MUSIC CLIP - HORACE SILVER, "COME ON HOME"

Yet, the brilliant Annie Ross could do it, stretching to the extremes of her range with ease and humor. Take a listen…

MUSIC - LAMBERT, HENDRICKS, AND ROSS, "COME ON, HOME"

Shortly after this recording was released in 1962, Annie Ross left the group. Starting in the late 1950s, Ross developed a heroin habit, and started an affair with comedian Lenny Bruce, a person who also struggled with drug addiction. She ended up opening her own jazz club in London in the 1960s, and recorded a few albums as well, but her life became filled with many ups and downs. By the 1970s, she returned to acting, with featured roles in the over a dozen films. And by the turn of the century, she was being awarded with an NEA Jazz Masters Award, as well as several other lifetime accolades. Annie Ross passed away on July 21, 2020, just a few days before her 90th birthday.

I’ll close off this Annie Ross tribute with a track from one of her 1960s albums, the 1964 album called Annie Ross Sings A Handful of Songs. Ross, as we’ve heard, was full of humor, full of high flyin’ swing, and full of bluesy soul. But she could also break your heart with a ballad. Here she is with one now.

This is Annie Ross in 1964 with “All The Things You Are,” on Afterglow

MUSIC - ANNIE ROSS, "ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE"

Annie Ross in 1964 with the jazz standard “All The Things You Are.”

MUSIC CLIP - ANNIE ROSS, "ANNIE'S LAMENT"

I’ll leave you with some more Annie Ross in the background, performing her original wordless song “Annie’s Lament.”

And thanks for tuning in to this Annie Ross tribute, on Afterglow.

Afterglow is part of the educational mission of Indiana University and produced by WFIU Public Radio in beautiful Bloomington, Indiana. The executive producer is John Bailey.

Playlists for this and other Afterglow programs are available on our website. That’s at indianapublicmedia.org/afterglow.

I’m Mark Chilla, and join me next week for our mix of Vocal Jazz and popular song from the Great American Songbook, here on Afterglow.

Annie Ross Mulligan

Annie Ross on the cover of her 1959 album "Annie Ross Sings A Song With Gerry Mulligan" (Album Cover)

At the end of July, the world lost one of its most beloved jazz singers, the great Annie Ross. Ross was perhaps best known as one third of the jazz vocal trio Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross, an innovative ensemble whose hip vocalese style took the jazz world by storm in the 1950s. Annie Ross was an icon and innovator outside of the trio—she was also an actor and solo singer with a soulful sound, who understood how to swing better than most female vocalists of her day. This week, I’ll pay tribute to Ross, playing for you some of her best work from the 50s and 60s.


The Young Annabelle Short

Annie Ross seemed to be destined for fame from the beginning. Born Annabelle Short in 1930 in England, the daughter of two vaudeville entertainers, she was already acting by age three. By age four, after a trip to New York, she had won a contract with MGM. With a budding career on the horizon, her parents decided to let her live in America with her maternal aunt, who just happened to be the famed Scottish actress and singer Ella Logan, who you may know as a star in the original Broadway production of Finian’s Rainbow

The little Annabelle Logan became famous as a child star, who among other things, sang a swingin’ version of the Scottish tune “Loch Lomond” on an Our Gang short film (aka, The Little Rascals). When she was a teenager, she changed her name to Annie Ross, and began to pursue a singing career back over the pond in Europe.

Vocalese and "Twisted"

She eventually landed a contract with Prestige Records, which put her on the ground floor of a new craze called “vocalese.” Prestige had also signed the bizarre entertainer known as King Pleasure, who was crafting new lyrics to existing jazz instrumental solos.

Ross made her own vocalese record for Prestige in 1952, adapting the 1949 jazz tune by tenor saxophonist Wardell Gray called “Twisted” with her own new lyrics. With a title like “Twisted,” Ross was inspired to write a song about seeing a psychoanalyst, despite having never seen one herself. “Twisted” became an underground hit for Annie Ross, earning her a Down Beat magazine award for Best New Star, and inspired another generation. Singers as disparate as Bette Midler, Mark Murphy, and Joni Mitchell recorded their own versions of it.

Lambert, Hendricks, and Count Basie

Annie Ross continued her solo career, singing with Lionel Hampton’s band and continuing to make a name for herself in both Europe and America. It was while she was in New York that she got her next big break.

It came in 1956, when jazz singers Jon Hendricks and Dave Lambert got in touch with her about a recording session. Hendricks was also a vocalese lyricist and Lambert was a bebop jazz innovator and skilled vocal arranger. They had the idea to turn the big band charts of Count Basie into vocalese music for a whole choir, and they needed Annie Ross’s help.

Lambert and Hendricks had hired a group of trained singers who could sight read the complex charts, but none of them could swing like Basie. They hoped that Ross could give the singers a lesson in rhythm. Ross knew it was a hopeless task, and despite her coaching, the recording session with the choir was a disaster. Hendricks later said of the choir, quote, “they couldn’t swing if you hung ‘em.”

They were left without a feasible recording and out of money. But then Dave Lambert had the idea of using the fairly new technique of over-dubbing voices, using just the three of them—Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross—singing all the parts. This was cutting edge stuff at the time, and the trio made lots of mistakes trying to get it perfect. After several months in the studio (working for no money), they finally had a product. It was called Sing A Song of Basie, and when it was released in 1956, it set the jazz world on fire. People loved Hendricks’ clever lyrics, Lambert’s keen arrangements, and Ross’s acrobatic vocals, and held together by their perfect sense of swing.

Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross

After the success of the original Sing A Song of Basie in 1956, Lambert, Hendricks and Ross became the toast of the jazz world. First, though, they dropped the idea of creating complicated overdubs and ended up singing as simply a trio. Together, they made television appearances. They were asked to sing for special projects, including Dave and Iola Brubeck’s concept album The Real Ambassadors. 

And they ended up recording five more full length albums, including an album with Count Basie himself. On the album, called Sing Along With Basie, the trio was joined by Basie’s regular singer Joe Williams, who sometimes acted as a soloist, and other times joined them as a bass voice.

In the late 50s and into the early 60s, Ross continued to record with Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, creating vocalese versions of well-known jazz tunes, as well as keeping an international touring schedule. It was grueling work that ended up breaking up the band by 1962, although Ross’s own drug and health problems also contributed.

Going Solo

After her initial success with the groundbreaking jazz vocal group Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross in 1956, Annie Ross continued to make solo records. After all, she was a well established solo artist before she lit up the jazz world as part of the trio.

These solo records included an album with saxophonist Zoot Sims, an album of all songs from the new Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim Broadway musical Gypsy, alongside the Buddy Bregman Orchestra, and a handful of sessions with saxophonist Gerry Mulligan.

Starting in the late 1950s, Ross developed a heroin habit, and started an affair with comedian Lenny Bruce, a person who also struggled with drug addiction. She ended up opening her own jazz club in London in the 1960s, and recorded a few albums as well, but her life became filled with many ups and downs.

By the 1970s, she returned to acting, with featured roles in the over a dozen films. And by the turn of the century, she was being awarded with an NEA Jazz Masters Award, as well as several other lifetime accolades. Annie Ross passed away on July 21, 2020, just a few days before her 90th birthday.

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