Jon Hendricks, one of the most famous and beloved jazz musicians of the 1950s, died Wednesday in New York City, in a Manhattan hospital – as Aria Hendricks, his daughter, told the media. He was 96.

Hendricks is mostly known for his spectacular vocal arrangements. He could turn instrumental sounds into beautiful vocals. The development of his career had its highest peak when he was part of the vocal trio Lambert, Hendricks & Ross – with Dave Lambert and Annie Ross.

Although Hendricks sang the own lyrics in his music, he also sang over other’s instrumentals. He liked to improvise over many songs performed by orchestras and other musicians – such as the Count Basie Orchestra and the Horace Silver Quintet.

That kind of practice is called vocalese, and some experts point that its creator was the singer Eddie Jefferson. However, several jazz musicians name Hendricks as the best-known singer who once used the technique. His band introduced for the first time this concept to an immense public, using tight harmonies and clear melodies. This launched Lambert, Hendricks & Ross to success between 1950 and 1960.

Jon Hendricks, Hendricks & Ross , New York City, Vocalese, Sing a Song of Basie
Aged 96, Jon Hendrick’s daughter informed that his father had died in Manhattan. Image credit: Cheers

“When I was first singing, I would forget the words and then make up ones I thought would fit,” Mr. Hendricks told jazz writer Ralph Gleason in 1959. “When I put in my own words, I found out that as long as they rhymed, people didn’t know the difference.”

In the 1980s, he collaborated with Manhattan Tranffer on an album called “Vocalese” that won three Grammys, including one for Hendricks.

A musical practice owned by an uncommon person

Maybe what made Jon’s vocals so important were the lyrics, which tended to involve philosophical narratives. However, the control of his voice played another great role in his entire music career. This is why “Sing a Song of Basie,” the trio’s first album, was greatly praised among the public.

Others had previously experimented with the vocalese, but Hendricks is considered the father of that style for having popularized it.

At first, in the middle 1950s, he formed a duet with Lambert – a bebop singer highly estimated by Hendricks. They both achieved many great hits, such as “Four Brothers” and “Cloudburst.” Then, in 1957, the English singer Ross, well known for her vocalese lyrics, joined him to sing “Twisted.”

Jon Hendricks, Hendricks & Ross , New York City, Vocalese, Sing a Song of Basie
‘Sing a Song of Basie’ was the first album of the trio Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. Image credit: iCollector

“I wrote the shortest jazz poem ever heard,” he once wrote as a way of explaining his philosophy. “Nothin’ about huggin’ or kissin’. One word: ‘Listen.’ ”

In a 1997 Associated Press interview, Hendricks recalled that Lambert told him once to do “something artistic” so the world would remember them forever. Then, they proceeded to add lyrics to 10 Count Basie’s pieces and to record the album.

The trio disintegrated in 1962, and Hendrick kept performing and solo-singing in London. Then, he became a San Francisco critic and recorded various albums. Ross was also successful doing solos. Lambert, on the other hand, died in 1966.

Source: The New York Times