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Artist Profile: Jazz Singer Jon Hendricks

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Jazz Singer Jon Hendricks Courtesy of Denon Records

Born::

September 16, 1921, Newark, Ohio

Jazz Singer Jon Hendricks – Background:

One of fifteen children, son of a pastor in the African Methodist Episcopal church, Jon Hendricks showed early interest in playing the drums. At 14 years old, though, Hendricks began singing with pianist Art Tatum on the radio, propelling him into the world of vocal jazz.

After serving in the army in World War II, Hendricks attended the University of Toledo, majoring in pre-law. Upon the expiration of the G.I. Bill, Hendricks abandoned his law studies. Taking the advice of Charlie Parker, whom he had met during a performance in Toledo, Jon moved to New York City to pursue a career as a jazz singer.

Hendricks' first recordings in New York included Four Brothers (1955) and Sing a Song of Basie (1957). The latter recording would be the first to feature Hendricks with fellow jazz singers Dave Lambert and Annie Ross, a trio which would go by the name Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross. The trio would tour for six years, producing such seminal recordings as The Swingers! (1958) and The Real Ambassadors (1962). The ensemble's precision and swinging interpretation of standards prompted Melody Maker magazine to name Lambert, Hendricks and Ross the “Number one vocal group in the world” for five years.

Vocalese:

Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross gained particular notoriety for their setting of lyrics to instrumental jazz standards, a technique known as “vocalese.” Though Hendricks did not invent the technique, his crafty settings of such intricate tunes as Duke Ellington's “Cottontail” (Lambert, Hendricks and Ross! (1960)) made him the most notable figure to use it. Not only did Hendricks write lyrics to melodies, he wrote them to entire instrumental solos. On “Cottontail,” Hendricks sets the tenor saxophone solo played by Ben Webster on Ellington's original recording. Using the solo line as a melodic platform, Hendricks sings from the perspective of a rabbit stealing carrots from a farmer, adding a lighthearted storyline to the already captivating melody.

Later Life:

Following the disbanding of Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross in 1963, Hendricks moved his family to London in 1968 in order to devote time to solo work. In addition to touring Europe and Africa, Hendricks appeared in the films Jazz is Our Religion (1972) and Hommage a Cole Porter. In 1973 he relocated to California, where he wrote jazz reviews for The San Francisco Cronicle and taught in the University of California system. During this time Hendricks also wrote for stage (Evolution of the Blues, 1978) and for television (Somewhere to Lay my Weary Head). In 1985, Hendricks collaborated with vocal jazz group The Manhattan Transfer on their album, Vocalese, which earned seven Grammy awards.

Since 2000, Hendricks has been based in Toledo, Ohio, where he teaches at The University of Toledo.

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