Members: Dave Lambert, Jon Hendricks, Annie Ross
I’ve been doing this blog for over ten years, with 570 posts so far. That’s a lot of entries, and these days it’s sometimes hard to figure out new entries that might fit. And it was only this week that I realized I had overlooked one of the greatest vocal acts ever: Lambert, Hendricks & Ross.
Jon Hendricks (b. 1921) was a jazz singer, performing at a very young age. After WWII, at the encouragement of Charlie Parker, he moved to New York and established himself.
Hendricks was attracted to the idea of “vocalese,” where a singer would take a jazz standard – usually an instrumental solo -- and add lyrics to make it singable. He would add some scat singing to fill out the sound.
Dave Lambert (1917-1966) also was a jazz singer who started out even earlier than Hendricks. He also was was a fan of vocalese and began to work with Hendricks. They realized they needed a woman to fill out the sound, and Annie Ross (b. 1930) joined the group.
Their first album, Sing a Song of Basie, put them on the jazz map. They took songs made famous by the Count Basie orchestra and used their voices like instruments, singing what was performed by saxophones and trumpets. It was – like all their albums – a tour de force. They originally wanted another female voice to help out, but Ross didn’t like the idea.* So they invented double tracking so she could sing two parts at once.
The followed this up with Sing Along with Basie, which was more of the brilliant same, with Count Basie taking part in the sessions. After an album, The Swingers!, which is hard to find information about, they recorded their masterpiece.
It was released as The Hottest New Group in Jazz!, but is now just referred to by the name of the group. It is absolutely amazing from start to finish, highlighted by Ross’s witty “Twisted.”
To really see what is going on here (though you don’t need to to love the song), here is the original instrumental:
In a sense, though, this example is misleading. Their sound involved teaming and harmonies and all three of the people singing at once.
The album is one of the milestones of jazz.**
The group recorded two more albums” Lambert, Hendricks & Ross Sing Ellington (doing for him what they did for Count Basie) and High Flying with Lambert, Hendricks and Ross.
Annie Ross left the group in 1962. Lambert and Hendricks recruited Yolande Bavan to replace her. As Lambert, Hendricks & Bavan, they put out three live albums, but the group ended, sadly, in 1966, when Dave Lambert died after being accidentally hit by a tractor-trailer while trying to fix a flat tire.
Both Hendricks and Ross continued to perform to much acclaim, but it just wasn’t the same. In 1985, Hendricks worked with the Manhattan Transfer*** to put out the album “Vocalese,” which is the closest thing to Lambert, Hendricks & Ross since then.
It’s actually hard to find most of their work. Only The Hottest New Group in Jazz! is available on its own (though it has been expanded). There is a compilation of all their albums out, but it’s seems to have only appeared in Europe.
Still, it’s all worth the effort. These are (as I was told when I bought the album) “three cool cats.”
*She has said she wanted to be the only girl in the group.
**I purchased a copy of it (in vinyl) from a small record store, Apex Music Korner in Schenectady. The storeowner was definitely impressed, that one of those college kids had an appreciation of jazz.
***I saw the group when I was in college. They were terrible. The problem seems to be is that they had had an almost complete turnover of personnel and direction from when the concert was booked, and they hadn’t had time to rehearse the new act.