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May 30, 2007

Legend gives voice to jazz

Toronto Star (Ontario):

As is his way, Jon Hendricks was forthright about adapting the moniker of his famed '50s trio for a new ensemble, Lambert, Hendrick & Ross Redux, which performs at the Art of Jazz Celebration on June 3.

"It was the No. 1 jazz vocal group in the entire world for five years, so it's got a lot of bona fides behind it," said the renowned singer/lyricist in a phone interview. "It would be less than intelligent to use any other name when you've got the name in jazz vocals."

It's not as if Hendricks, 85, has been a slouch since the demise of LH&R, the group he formed with Dave Lambert and Annie Ross in 1957.

He has enjoyed a reasonable solo career, done a stint as jazz critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, written for stage and TV, toured a family group that included his wife, two daughters and Bobby McFerrin, and taught Jazz Studies at the University of Toledo since 2000.

Considered the "Father of Vocalese," Hendricks says this new group with the youngest of his five children, daughter Aria, and her childhood pal, Kevin Fitzgerald Burke, aims to fill a void.

"Without us, there's no authentic vocalese going on," he said of the style LHR pioneered 50 years ago.

That's the art of setting lyrics to famous jazz instrumental standards, then arranging voices to sing the parts of the instruments. Scat is singing nonsense syllables to a tune generally improvised on the spot.

Hendricks is noted for his gift in composing lyrics for jazz classics such as Miles Davis's "Freddie Freeloader" and Count Basie's "April in Paris."

"Listening is the key to vocalese. What you're doing is imitating a record that you've heard. If you're going to sing a Lester Young tenor solo, you have to mimic his tone, which is high and reedy. Ben Webster's tone is rougher.

"There are groups that I've inspired and worked with and helped out, like the Manhattan Transfer and the New York Voices. They're all from us. So I felt that if all these people are thriving on what we did, there's room for us in the market."

They tested the waters last fall at a Milan nightclub.

"It was sensational. The people were applauding seven minutes after we left the stage. My dressing room was two flights up and the waiter ran up there and said `You got to come back.' I said `What do you mean come back? We just did two encores.' So I put my shirt back on and we did two more numbers."

A New York date in January garnered a similar response. So the Toronto show, which will feature nuggets from the LHR catalogue as well as new material, is the next step toward a wider tour and recording.

"Everybody knows and loves those songs. We were (in Toronto) twice a year for the whole five years we were together. And I think we're going to recapture the old audience and fascinate the new one."

Posted by acapnews at May 30, 2007 11:00 PM