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Jon Hendricks (1921 – 2017), innovative jazz vocalist

by Kirk Fox

Time Magazine called him the “James Joyce of jive”…

Jon Hendricks, innovative jazz vocalist who was a member of the trio Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, has died at the age of 96, according to The New York Times.

His death, in a hospital, was confirmed by his daughter Aria Hendricks. 


Hendricks was one of the pioneers of the singing style called vocalese. He added his own lyrics to existing jazz instrumentals. Hendricks was also considered one of the great scat singers of all time. 

Hendricks picked words for his version of the songs to match the instrumentation, even solos. 

Jazz vocal legend Al Jarreau sang with Hendricks on his album “Freddie Freeloader.” In an interview with NPR in 2011, Jarreau said, “There’s very highly complex music in the Basie book, very highly complex music in the Miles [Davis] book.” “And to have the idea that yes, I can write a lyric for this stuff that makes sense and I’ll even sing the solos, the great classic solos — just wild.” 

One of his well-known adaptations was for Count Basie’s classic “Jumpin’ at the Woodside.” Hendricks told NPR in 2011 how he came up with the lyrics. 

“The Woodside is a hotel on 125th [St.] and 8th Avenue,” “Everybody stayed there because you didn’t have to go to bed at nine or 10. You could have jam session at 3 a.m. Old vaudevillians and musicians ran the hotel, the man and his wife. And so I told that story.” 

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Hendricks started working with fellow jazz vocalist Dave Lambert in 1953. ABC-Paramount signed them to record an album with their re-worked versions of Count Basie songs. Having problems with getting the studio singers accompanying them to sing in the vocalese style, they brought in jazz vocalist Annie Ross. She had experience singing vocalese and after the album was released, they formed the trio of Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross. 

Their album “Sing a Song of Basie” was released in 1958 and was a big hit. The trio recorded a few more albums until Annie Ross left the group in 1962. 

Hendricks became a solo artist and moved to London, performing before sold out crowds included the Beatles. 

Hendricks moved back to the United States, wrote jazz reviews for the San Francisco Chronicle, and later became a professor of jazz studies at the University of Toledo. 

He continued to release solo albums and performed with various artists including The Manhattan Transfer and Kurt Elling. 

He is survived by his daughter Aria, another daughter, Michele Hendricks; a son, Jon Hendricks Jr.; three grandchildren; and a niece, Bonnie Hopkins. 

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