The great jazz singer Jon Hendricks died in New York earlier today at the age of 96. In his New York Times obituary, Peter Keepnews writes that “Mr. Hendricks did not invent this practice, known as vocalese — most jazz historians credit the singer Eddie Jefferson with that achievement — but he became its best-known and most prolific exponent, and he turned it into a group art.”
His work with Lambert, Hendricks and Ross was one of my gateways into jazz music. My childhood home had only a few mostly dreadful record albums (and my beloved mother’s favorite radio station was KABL/San Francisco, with Mantovani and 101 Strings in heavy rotation on the Philco clock radio on the kitchen counter), but somewhere in the bowels of the house was Sing a Song of Basie LP that would somehow occasionally make its way on to our Hoffman stereo system’ turntable — in competition for time with Creedence and the Doors and Beatles 45’s. Even as a little kid I could tell this was “hip” music, and it ultimately led me to an unforgettable experience.
When I was living in Berkeley in the late seventies I went to see him on stage in a small North Beach