Octajazzarians profile: jon hendricks

For the first time in jazz’s brief century, many leading artists are staying active beyond their eighth decade. OctoJAZZarians is an on-going series celebrating these living legends, pioneers who were first-hand participants in the evolution of America's greatest art form.

Our subject this month is singer/composer Jon Hendricks.

By arnold jay smith

                      Jon Hendricks by Suzanne Cerny

Many years ago, Jon Hendricks told me that a tune is remembered by its lyrics. "You can hum a tune forever, in the shower, or cleaning your apartment, and never know its name. But once you sing the words [he snapped is fingers], you got it!" Hendricks posed this thought: Would Duke Ellington have been as famous without all those songwriters? At the time Hendricks was in the throes of writing lyrics to many of Thelonious Monk's compositions (which were hard enough to remember as they were), then copyright them and become co-author. According to copyright law, once words are written to a melody and the title is taken from those words, both composer and author receive royalties, even if it was originally an instrumental. For "I Got Rhythm" it was George Gershwin's brother Ira; for "My Funny Valentine," Lorenz Hart; for "Maria," Stephen Sondheim, and so on. Sometimes the line is blurred, as with Lennon and McCartney. I once asked Betty Carter why she insisted upon putting the original composer and lyricist on her re-rhythm-ed, re-melodicized, and re-harmonized versions, as they were so unique as to warrant new ownership. Her reply was simply, "I owe them." (Meaning the songwriters.)

Hendricks was adding new life to Monk. "Monk had told me that 'the only motherfucker I want to write my lyrics is [you],' meaning me," Hendricks said. So he wrote new lyrics, even to "Round Midnight," which already had lyrics written by Bernie Hanighen (Carmen McRae once made an album of Monk tunes with new words and titles by Hanighen). "Do you know that Monk didn't even know [I wrote] lyrics to that one?" Hendricks remarked. "And that pisses me off! If it was Johnny Mercer, you know they'd bow and scrape. It's a racist thing man." Hendricks sent the new words to Nellie, Monk's widow, who approved.

There's the infamous case of "Moody's Mood for Love." Eddie Jefferson wrote new lyrics set to James Moody's brilliant improvised alto sax solo on "I'm In The Mood for Love" (perhaps the first recorded example of "vocalese," which we'll talk about below) and gave his version its new title. The courts preposterously decided that the Moody/Jefferson version of the tune still belonged to Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh. Moody only gets a taste.

Hendricks as written words to some of Horace Silver's eminently funky and lyrical tunes, and sung them with Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, among others. Silver decided he wanted all the royalties ("He's entitled; they're his songs," said Hendricks). Silver re-wrote new words with new titles for a Dee Dee Bridgewater CD called Love and Peace. Hendricks' name is nowhere to be found, posing the legal question: Can there be two sets of lyrics on one tune? "The answer is yes," Hendricks emphatically said. "You can have as many sets of lyrics you want, and collect the royalties on a 50-50 basis, provided yours are the ones that are sung. Horace just wants it all. Frankly, his are silly. Mine are better." I concur.

[ASIDE : Which brings to mind an apocryphal story. Mrs. Jerome Kern and Mrs. Oscar Hammerstein II are in a knot of people at a cocktail party when Mrs. Kern says proudly, "My husband wrote 'Old Man River.'" To which Mrs. Hammerstein replies, "Oh no he didn't. Your husband wrote (she vocalizes 'dah dah dah-dah,' the famous opening refrain sans words). My husband wrote 'Old Man River.'"]

Hendricks (b. 1921) does not have to fret about royalties. His lyrics to composers such as Louis Armstrong, Randy Weston, Miles Davis, Mongo Santamaria, Joao Gilberto, Duke Ellington, Lester Young, Count Basie, Bobby Timmons and Antonio Carlos Jobim, ("Would you believe 'Desafinado' was turned down by three major writers, so I did them," Hendricks said; history knocked, Jon answered] are sung seemingly endlessly in clubs, concerts, on recordings, and in elevators and supermarkets. There are even printed parts for vocal ensembles.

It's all because of something called "vocalese," the writing of real words telling real stories set to previously recorded—and often well-known—improvised instrumental jazz solos. Vocalese differs from scat singing, which is improvised vocal jazz using nonsense syllables, mimicking instrumental jazz technique.

Did Hendricks invent vocalese? Hardly. Remember "Jumpin' With Symphony Sid," a Prez solo by King Pleasure? Then there's "Twisted," a Wardell Gray solo by Hendricks' former partner Annie Ross. Both predate Hendricks' foray into the form, as did another Lambert, Hendricks & Ross colleague, Dave Lambert. Even Mel Torme and his Mel-Tones checked in. Hendricks' accomplishment was in making vocalese a separate, completely acceptable and popular form of vocalizing. Not a fad, but a trend.

It was December 2008 in Lower Manhattan. Jon and Judith Hendricks were in New York during a winter recess from his professorial duties in Toledo, his birthplace (also the birthplace of Art Tatum and home of the minor league Mud Hens). In their upper floor aerie overlooking New York's glorious harbor, we dined and chatted for hours on a groaning board prepared by Judith, and didn't get the whole job done. Due to Hendricks' phenomenal memory—and his long digressions—we needed another session. That took place the following June, when Jon was in town being inducted onto the ASCAP Jazz Wall of Fame (Annie Ross and the late Dave Lambert were among the other inductees).

It was during this second go-round that Hendricks opined on a variety of topics. "I was on a college jazz radio station with and for Mark Morganelli's Jazz Forum's 30th Anniversary (see www.jazz.com)," he began, "and for one full hour there was no Ellington, no Basie, no Dizzy Gillespie, no Charlie Parker …" he trailed off only to pick it up again. "[The classical station] plays music by dead people from three hundred, four hundred years ago. Why the fuck can't we? Ours is newer, just about a hundred. Oh, the music will survive, but these little shits [the CD spinners –he wouldn't dignify them by calling them DJ's which is more-or-less a profession] are going to stomp it into the ground.

"There's only one radio station around here [NYC], and that's over there." He pointed out the window across the river to New Jersey. "WBGO. They've got some real culturally attuned professionals like Michael Bourne; he plays the masters." In truth, 'BGO has a plethora of jazz personality riches: the regulars Gary Walker, Rhonda Hamilton, and Awilda Rivera. I got Hendricks to admit to being shortsighted as regards the station's DJs; even the weekenders: Rob Crocker, Monifa Brown and Sheila Anderson. "Ok. They've got a cultural center, but so many others have no sense as to how the culture came about."

Another favorite topic to which we returned a few times is education. "I have 200 students per section [at the University of Toledo]," he said. "That's 400 souls listening to Jon Hendricks expound from his soapbox on Jazz in American Society. I tell them on the first day that it is ludicrous that I should be standing here, 'telling you about your culture when it should be you telling me. You know everything about rock, which is bullshit, but at least it came from the blues, and nothing about jazz.'"

Hendricks' political suspicions became evident when he blamed the British intelligence services MI-5 and MI-6 for fomenting the [white?] rock revolution. He also alleged that the C.I.A. is responsible for killing some 18 people who were supposedly on a list kept by Jack Ruby, who himself killed Lee Harvey Oswald, John F. Kennedy's accused assassin. According to Hendricks, the list consisted of people who were privy to some uncomfortable truths. Ruby died of cancer in prison. Hendricks believes Ruby was injected with the disease.

We eventually got to musical improvisation, after more riffing through religion, social geography, and some Hendricks historical revisionisms.

"There was this hamburger joint on Indiana Ave. between Collingwood and Division, run by Stanley Cowell [father of the jazz pianist]," he began. "[Cowell] hung out with my brothers—I had eleven brothers and three sisters—as they were the same age. It was during the Depression. Nobody had any money. Movies were a dime, so [when I had bread], I could take at least two or three of my bothers and sisters to the movies with me. Even my father [who was a minister] had to take a day job cutting hair."

How did he get that bread? Jon, with time to spare, would hang around the Cowell jukebox all day. He learned the whole jukebox, "every tune on it, the arrangements, the solos, everything," he said. As other patrons approached the box, Jon would intercede. The colloquy went something like this: Jon: "Whatcha gonna play?" Coin holder: "What's it to ya?" Jon: "Gimme the nickel and I'll sing it." His goal was to make enough to take his and his brothers and sisters to the movies—remember, they cost a dime. "I think they were curious to hear what I was gonna do," he confessed. One tune was a hit penned by a young Gerald Wilson for the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra called "Yard Dog Mazurka."

"I remember that tune to this day," Jon said. "That's where Stan Kenton got his 'Intermission Riff.' Copped it directly from Gerald." Jon would proceed to sing the chart, to the delight of the burger joint's diners. (He sang it for me.) "They would stop to listen. It became a regular floor show." (I wonder what Mr. Cowell thought about his patrons not buying his burgers.) The words would come later. "I wasn't there yet," Hendricks said. "I was laying the foundation for the tune, singing what [the potential juke players] wanted to hear." The vocal group the Ink Spots was big in the jukes then. Hendricks sang all the parts, some of which were vocalized instrumentals.

           Erroll Garner and Art Tatum at Birdland, 1952
                                   by Marcel Fleiss

He was a cute eleven year-old with a high-pitched voice. People dropped into that joint to hear this kid do Glenn Miller''s "Juke Box Saturday Night." The word got out that "little Johnny Hendricks does all the solos, too." Not only could he now afford to go to the moving picture shows, but also got the notoriety he needed for a paying gig at the Waiters and Bellmen's Club at the urging of fellow Toledo native, Art Tatum. Hendricks was billed as "Little Johnny Hendricks: The sepia Bobby Breen." [Breen was a very popular white motion picture and radio singing personality.] "I met [Breen] on the vaudeville circuit with Benny Kubelsky, who told bad jokes and played very bad violin. I thought, 'he needs to go back to Waukegan and take more fiddle lessons, or learn some new material.'" (Kubelsky did neither; he changed his name to Jack Benny.)

Hendricks gives credit to his "press agents." "I had the best of them. Art Tatum was plugging me in Toledo, and then when Charlie Parker came through and heard me, he set me up in New York just by telling about me." But it took its toll. As his usual happy tone turned a bit more somber, Hendricks related that "it had an effect on my growing up. I ran to sing right after school. I missed not having a girl friend to play 'sticky finger' with, like the other boys." (You'll have to figure out what sticky finger is by yourself. I remarked to Jon that if I ever did that I would have gotten the taste slapped out of my mouth by, not only her parents, but by my parents as well. He replied, "That's because you're a nice Jewish boy." True dat; we were saving our doing dirty nasty things for the woman we loved and respected!)

He missed going junkin' and taking [the stuff] downtown to sell it. But he was learning to communicate with Tatum through the music, of which he knew nothing. "[Tatum] would say, 'sing this.' And he would play something. Eventually, I could." Because of Tatum's teaching technique, the use of ears rather than eyes, Hendricks never learned to read music. "Art was blind and I was dumb," he quipped. "Illinois Jacquet once said of Tatum, 'he could hear a gnat piss on cotton.'"

While Hendricks loved singing to instrumental parts, it was this communication aspect that piqued his interest. He thought that if he would sing real words and tell stories he could better get his message across. "It was like carrying a storyboard around in your throat," he explained. "I never tried to proliferate it, as there was a lack of understanding."

With it all Hendricks never skimped on education. He was an English major with a History minor. The former stood him well when it came to vocalese lyrics. It was his father who insisted that he keep up with his studies. "He knew that one day I might want to continue my schooling," he said. "My [preacher] father taught me 'parabalic (sic) poetry' based on parables. You could tell a story; Shakespeare used that. That is where my style came from. It's reviewing and hiding material."

[A HENDRICKS DIGRESSION: "I started reading the Book as a collection of beautiful poetry. King James I chose Sir Francis Bacon to write a Bible, while in 'exile' at the Court of Navarre. Seems Sir Francis was James' bastard son." Here's where Hendricks historical references took an enervating turn. "It is rumored that 'Loves Labor Lost' was written in France, by Bacon. In fact, there is no one Shakespeare," he asserts. "It is spelled seven different ways and there are five signatures. All have been attested to be false. There was such a man who was a horse holder at the 'Globe' (as in the Earth) Theatre." According to Hendricks, Bacon is also said to have written works attributed to Spencer, Peele, Greene and Ben Johnson, who lived in Bacon's house.]

At this point my patience ran out. I interrupted and asked sharply, "Are we ever going to get to vocalese?" He laughed. But he went on and on, quoting Genesis, as I drew astrological circles on my pad. "In the Beginning God …" [The words he was to introduce on Ellington's First Concert of Sacred Music at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco. Read on.] I was aboard for a ride, yet Jon was taking me someplace I did not care to go. But I could not stop his train of thought. A stop along the route was "words, Bacon did it with words," he said with emphasis. At last, I thought. We're back on the track. Was I ever wrong. The Bacon track led to astrology, which led to politics, more C.I.A., the Bushes and the Kennedy deaths.

We were talking about live radio and the couples who broadcast out of their homes, like actor, director, and producer Richard Kolmar and columnist Dorothy Kilgallen, who hosted WOR's "Breakfast With Dorothy and Dick." History buff Hendricks turned the conversation to the President Kennedy assassination and the "quick, sudden deaths of those who knew something other than what was reported," Hendricks said. One such was Kilgallen, who is now considered by some responsible journalists to have been murdered. "Her body was only discovered in bed and we were told that she died there," Hendricks observed.

Meanwhile, back in Toledo, "Little Johnny" had seen the movie Hurricane starring Jon Hall. "Hey," he thought. "That's a cool way to spell my name." He became Jon Hendricks and lost the "Little" sobriquet. We almost picked up the music trail when Jon began telling war stories—not the road kind; the Army kind.

"The Army was going to hang me and four fellows from the neck until dead as we were AWOL," he began. "We were running from race riots in Epergne, France. Some white MPs come to town and—seeing we had all the girls—[they] wanted in on the action. Now you know, even if they started something, us niggers were going to get the worst of it. They wrecked the place and left."

The next day there was friendly fire being rained down on their position. Hendricks and the aforementioned four guys tried to requisition rifles. Black soldiers were not armed during WWII. Did I forget to mention that Hendricks was the Quartermaster? The Captain refused, saying that he wasn't going to give them rifles so they could fire on American troops. "Then what are we?" Hendricks shouted and slammed the door. "We packed our bags, plus I took all the passes I could carry, two deuce-and-a-half's, a jeep, carbines and 45s with ammo, and we split." They approached the Swiss border, commandeered a hotel and figured to stay there for the duration and perhaps beyond.

"We made friends," Hendricks continued. "By going into a field and killing a cow and bringing it back to town where the butcher took care of the rest. It was wartime remember? They hadn't tasted meat in years. We were heroes!" The residents protected them by not allowing just anyone, including army personnel, into the hotel. "They had to be the right kind of people, if you catch my drift."

The C.I.D. caught up with them, after more than a year and the accumulation of beaucoup Swiss Francs. Hendricks drew three years of which he served 11 months, got a dishonorable discharge (which was later changed to honorable), regained his T5 rank, but was kept in the army. "I fell in love with a girl in Bremerhaven; then they sent me home." He winked after that statement.

Once back in the states, the Tatum connection kicked in. It was the late 1940s and the music was changing. "I had a quintet in Rochester, N.Y. It was white kids who were doing the bebop thing at the time, and they were good," he said. "I had this drummer who couldn't get it, so I demonstrated. He said to me, why don't you play? So I did, for eight years, just to show what a bebop riff was. I was singing the riffs. [He scats.] Words came later at a club in Toledo called the M & L. The first one was 'Anthropology.'" He did not copyright those lyrics. "I did it for creativity; I became a businessman later." All his lyrics are now published by Hendricks Music, which is administered by Music Sales, "the biggest in the world," he said proudly.

The first L-H-R album, , Sing a Song of Basie, was brought to ABC/Paramount Records producer Creed Taylor as a fait accompli. The story of how they got together is a tale told many times. Herewith some inside stuff:

"Dave Lambert was working in Hollywood doing backgrounds, such as a Hawaiian album for Jo Stafford, stuff like that. Later, we worked for left-handed violinist and bandleader Johnny Long doing backgrounds for four singers, Lambert, Hendricks, Bunny Briggs, the dancer and a trumpet player to be named later. Davey handed out the music and we were about to begin when I said to him that I couldn't read. He told me to stand next to Bunny, which I did, and sang a third away from his vocals. Afterwards I approached Bunny and thanked him. He asked me for what. I said for allowing me to follow your lead, as I can't read. He said, 'I can't read either.' Seems he had memorized the parts.

"Starving time, no food, credit overextended. I said to Davey that before we die we ought to do something great, leave a legacy. Certify to people that Dave Lambert and Jon Hendricks had been here. We came up with ten Basie songs that he would write words to and I would write the arrangements. He asked if I realized how long that would take. I replied, 'Do you have anything else to do?' The titles lent themselves to story lines, 'Down For the Count,'" which they were. "'Blues Backstage' became the Pagliacci story."

The word "vocalese" was coined by author/journalist Leonard Feather to mean a large expanded unit singing the solos as well as the backgrounds. Judith and Jon Hendricks are rather narrow in their definition. "King Pleasure and Eddie Jefferson are vocalese-ish," they exclaimed. "They may be included, but they weren't in the original evaluation. They gave single horn interpretations."

But so did Ross, who preceded them with her interpretation of "Twisted." "Annie was already a singing entity," Jon said. "She had done the London and Broadway stages, nightclubs and had some recordings. She was the pro who melded the whole thing." He went on to say that he and Lambert wondered why she didn't write more. "Dave told me that she didn't want to compete with me. I said that there was no competition here. I'm just writin' the best I can, and she can write the best she can, and it's going to be gorgeous."

About Sing a Song of Basie Creed Taylor, a frustrated trumpet player who was doing sound effects, told me (I was writing the company bio as its publicist) that his days at ABC were numbered until L-H-R brought the completed project to him. "I had nothing whatever to do with the production," Taylor humbly admitted. "I was in the studio, just in case."

The overdubbing was a mutual idea amongst the trio. "There were no machines to overdub our voices back then," Jon said almost lamentably. "No tracking devices; no multiple layers. We did isolate the 'Basic Rhythm Section' [a name Creed liked because if you read it fast it looked like 'Basie.'] But that was it. Every track had to be re-recorded over the previous one, in real time," Hendricks emphasized. "Four tracks each, three times," he said to elicit a gasp effect. In case you can't immediately recall your multiplication tables—and you haven't listened to a Bob Dorough recording in a while—that's 12, plus rhythm. [Nat Pierce was the pianist.] "It took three months for us to sing and record four trumpets, three trombones, and five reeds," Hendricks recounted. (Three months is small potatoes for a rock recording, but a very long time for jazz.) Sing a Song of Basie has been available on CD (Impulse) for some time and still sells.

There was a second recording along those same lines called Sing Along With Basie (Roulette), which included not only the New Testament Basie Band but also their singer, Joe Williams. The album was Basie's idea after having heard L-H-R live. Awards quickly followed. Imitators, too. The Pointer Sisters, the Manhattan Transfer, Take Six, the New York Voices—so many, in fact, that there came to be a separate dedicated category in the polls called "Vocal Group." Prior to L-H-R there were the Hi-Lo's and the Four Freshmen. Period.

The group recorded many times since then. They're all classics and still available, but one in particular bears notice here. "We recorded an album of Ellingtonia," Hendricks said. "Duke heard it and called me in San Francisco to tell me that he liked it so much he wanted me on a new project he was writing with Billy Strayhorn. At first I didn't even believe it was Duke on the phone. When that passed, we settled into business. He explained the project that was to become a concert of sacred music [the first of three]. He and Strays were writing a recitative with the working title of the first four words of the Bible, 'In The Beginning God….' [It remained as such.] When I told him later at a run-through, 'Edward, I don't' read music,' He thought I was joking and laughingly said, 'Hey, if you don't want to do it just tell me. No need to make up stories.' After a while he told me that it didn't matter; he wanted me no matter what.

"Every singer within the free world, and some from outside, wanted that part, from Andy Williams to Joe Williams," Jon said. Hendricks suggested Billy Eckstine with his deep rich baritone to Ellington. "'No, Jon,'" Ellington said. "'Too many people sing about God without authority; you sing about God with authority.'" There was silence in Hendricks' apartment for that one moment, as there must have been on the phone that night. Then he said, "I was high when I took his call, but I was now sitting bolt upright. Breath had left my body. I was flabbergasted when Edward said that."

The First Sacred Concert premiered in 1959 at the Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, with Jon Hendricks as the lead singer. [Brock Peters replaced him at New York's Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church and made the recording (RCA). The lines outside that church on a bitterly cold day-after-Christmas Night were so long that there was a quickly cadged second performance … and not a moment too soon for one young freezing fan and his even younger brother.]

At this moment in time Hendricks' base was the City by the Bay. In September of 1960 another extraordinary event took place that was to color a good part of the rest of his life. "Evolution of the Blues" sprang into being, Muse-like from the head of Zeus, er … Hendricks.

"It all started when we completed the 1959 Monterey Jazz Festival. Founder/producer Jimmy Lyons approached me and said, 'Why don't you do something with the blues next year?' [Bear in mind that Judith and Jon were still newly weds having married that preceding March.] I thought, let's see. The whole thing has got to be in rhyme. And it has to be what the blues is, all-encompassing. It also marked the introduction of Miriam Makeba in America. Harry Belafonte brought her here, but she first stopped in San Francisco."

Hendricks credits forces from the cosmos. "I wrote Evolution in about 20 minutes. It entered my brain and flowed through my upper body to my arm to my hand to the pencil to the paper." He gesticulated as he spoke. It was a work-in-progress even up to its premiere.

Hendricks describes the scene best: "John Lewis, then Music Director at Monterey, a very punctilious and artistic person, seeing that I was still writing, was asking me about when it was going to go on. I told him calmly not to worry, but he wasn't having any of that. 'What do you mean?' he would bellow. 'We've got a Festival going on here, schedules to meet, performers waiting their turn.' To look as his vein-bulging head and neck and ever-reddening face it looked for all the world that John was going into apoplexy." After the premiere concluded Jon said that the crowd was initially silent. "Then without warning they were on their feet and chairs cheering."

"Evolution" was not the first rhyming epic poem Hendricks had done. There was "New York, N.Y." with George Russell. Rhymes like New York, New York, a town so nice they named it twice. And get to the wicket and buy you a ticket.

At that time Hendricks was on staff at the San Francisco Chronicle as a critic for two years. He replaced Ralph J. Gleason, who left to co-found Rolling Stone Magazine. At one staff meeting, editor Alfred Frankenstein pronounced him "the greatest writer we have ever had." Understand he was the only black face in that room. "I was like a fly in a glass of buttermilk. [Pulitzer laureate] Herb Caen, who was also a staffer, had his door open. When he heard what Frankenstein said, he closed it.

"I heard that Herbie Hancock had booked himself into Mill Valley, where I was living at the time," Hendricks went on. "I went out to review him. I didn't hear Oscar Peterson, or Tatum. I heard rock music!" That set off a firestorm of an argument. "On no you didn't," says I. "You may have heard something you weren't used to hearing, but it was not rock." "It was rock music," he said with increasing emphasis. "What's wrong with that?" I asked. "I'll tell you what's wrong with that. When you advertise yourself as a jazz piano player and you don't hear shades of the masters—no Hank Jones, no Erroll Garner—you're playing bullshit!" he said angrily. "I put that in my article and Herbie and I didn't speak for about 18 months." They still are not exactly buddies.

Evolution opened in 1959 at the On Broadway Theatre in San Francisco where it remained for five years. Then "Evolution Is Coming to Broadway" blared a Chronicle headline. The story went on to say that the San Francisco hit which had been performed at the Kennedy Center in D.C. was on its way to a Broadway theatre to be determined. Later other stories said "the producers had stolen it from us and were taking it to Broadway," Hendricks noted. "Lawyers told us that if we didn't sue before it got to Broadway it would be too costly. The miscreants were drug smugglers and whoremongers and they offered the judges drugs and whores. [I wish Jon would speak his mind.] Now the show had run for more than a year at a place, Westwood Plaza, where nothing ran more than six weeks. The judge asks, 'who is this Jon Hendricks and what's this Evolution of the Blues anyhow?' He then suggested that we take it out of the courts and into arbitration meaning it would be less racist and more of a labor dispute." The ruling was that the producers would keep the rights but would award Hendricks $200,000 in legal fees, in effect buying him out.

"Not satisfactory," Jon told his lawyer and asked for their phone number. "There comes a time when a man has got to do something himself," he told the counselor. He told the thieves that he would turn over the $200g's for the rights to Evolution, in effect buying it back from them. They readily agreed to that happy ending. "They didn't care about the revue; they made $200,000 for doing nothing! And now I got a guy who wants to revive it." Every time it plays it's a hit. It is a proven masterpiece that needs virtually no updating. "After all, it's the Blues for crissake." I remarked that he could make a DVD and make back all of the historical investments, television, Amazon.com, even Starbucks. "We'll make a DVD only after it has run its course all over the world the way every show does," he said stubbornly.

"Evolution" had run its course for the moment, and L-H-R were turning away overflow audiences all over the world. Then suddenly, personnel changes took place. Annie Ross is out, and a revolving door of other voices took her place. Hendricks picks it up from there: "Annie got sick in Frankfurt [ostensibly drug related] and was shunted off to London. [Her family is from Scotland, but living in England. Among them was international stage star Ella Logan.] Davey and I valiantly trudged on, he singing what of her parts he knew, and me the rest. Some promoters, especially that cat from Frankfurt, were worried about refunds. No one asked for money back. We reluctantly tried Anne Marie Moss; we introduced Carol Sloane at Newport, and we recorded and toured with Yolande Bavan."

It appeared to be time to try something different: the family Hendricks, which he calls "Hendricks & Co." There were daughters Michelle and Aria, wife Judith, singer and "mouth trumpeter" Bob Gurland, plus rhythm. Others passed through, notably Bobby McFerrin, whose career began with Hendricks & Co. Now, Kevin Burke is the second male voice. Michelle is a singing wife and mother living in Paris; Judith has retired, at least for the moment. Their repertoire also expanded to include more than the classics, Basie, and the rest. Jon grew an affinity for bossa nova, and that is now an integral part of his show, with the occasional addition of acoustic guitarist Paul Meyer.

"Desafinado" was offered to Johnny Mercer for English lyrics, who turned it down. Ned Washington demurred, as did Sammy Cahn. Hendricks doing his own call and response: "Someone in New York asked the publisher if he'd tried Jon Hendricks. 'Who's that?' 'Lambert-Hendricks & Ross! 'I heard of them.' That's how I got to write "Desafinado," by default. That guy was a real schmuck."

Everyone wants to sing with Jon Hendricks. Vocalist Kurt Elling, who is a huge fan, sits-in with the Company every now and then. But Jon's personal favorite recording is the one he did for and with the Manhattan Transfer, Vocalese (Atlantic). He wrote and arranged the entire CD and he guests with them. He sometimes does the same with the New York Voices. To these ears, they owe their very existence to L-H-R.

Another project is his Vocalstra, "a 16-voice 'orchestra' from among my students in Toledo," he proudly noted. "I wrote arrangements from the [Miles Davis and Gil Evans] Sketches of Spain collection, which we performed at the Sorbonne in Paris."

REGRETS: "Not a one!" I've done it all. I might want to do some things over, but only to improve, not eliminate."

UNFINISHED: "Yeah. I've got some of those. I want to complete more of the Miles and Gil collaborations. ["Summertime" was done by L-H-R on The Hottest New Group In Jazz (Columbia) and some of Sketches by the Vocalstra.] But first there's a project near and dear, and that's a complete vocal arrangement of the original Miles Davis 'Round About Midnight LP. I mentioned the project to George Avakian who asked if he could produce. After that we'll Sing Another Song of Basie. There will be more projects; I've got backers.


August 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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