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March 21, 2004

Newark Advocate

Jon Hendricks' voice mimics a saxophone. His fingers dance in the air as he plays the imaginary instrument. He snaps his fingers and shuffles his feet. Then he breaks into a wide grin, knowing that he has captured his audience's attention for the next semester. Hendricks, a pioneering jazz lyricist and vocalist with five Grammys, is teaching jazz history and vocal jazz in his adopted hometown at the University of Toledo.

The 82-year-old full-time professor directs his own vocalese group. He is widely regarded as the father of vocalese -- setting lyrics to jazz instrumental songs. Born in Newark in 1921, he found fame with Lambert, Hendricks and Ross in the 1950s and '60s as it became one of the most celebrated jazz vocal groups ever. And he still writes lyrics to instrumentals.

Hendricks left his Manhattan apartment almost four years ago to move to Toledo at the urging of a former president at the university. He and his wife, Judith, live within walking distance of campus. There are books in their living room on Duke Ellington, John Coltrane and Miles Davis -- just some of the greats Hendricks has performed with. A picture of him in the White House with President Clinton sits on the grand piano with other family photos.

On a wall next to the kitchen, notes are posted with reminders of his upcoming concerts and phone numbers, including one for crooner Tony Bennett who sang at a Lincoln Center tribute on Hendricks' 75th birthday. Bennett has long admired Hendricks' gift. "He was, and still is, always trying to look ahead musically," Bennett said. "Jon's creative artistry helps propel jazz and jazz musicians forward." Others claim to have experimented with vocalese before Hendricks, but he is credited for pioneering and popularizing the spirited singing style. More

Posted by acapnews at March 21, 2004 6:41 PM

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