With the sudden death last week of Tim Hauser, who founded The Manhattan Transfer, I got to thinking about how an entire generation's introduction to jazz vocalese was now gone, and wondered if a new group might take their place. Then I remembered Dave Lambert, whose 1960s-era vocalese group survived his own sudden death. Annie Ross, pictured above, still records, and Jon Hendricks recorded well into the 1990s.
Compared to The Manhattan Transfer, Lambert, Hendricks & Ross were short-lived, but their influence is huge. They not only brought jazz to the mainstream in the 1950s, but cut a clear path for every jazz vocal group who followed in their footsteps. Their debut, "Sing A Song Of Basie," released in 1957, was trumpeted as "The birth of the jazz vocal group!" That was a bit misleading, of course, since many groups, like The Andrews Sisters, preceded them, but they were the first to completely replace jazz instrument solos with be-bop vocals. The result is just as electrifying now as it was back then.
From that point on, Lambert, Hendricks & Ross were considered a top jazz group, making the influential Down Beat magazine's "Best Of" list many times (starting in 1959). Not too shabby when you consider that the list included the likes of Stan Getz, Miles Davis and Ella Fitzgerald.
In 1959, their LP "The Swingers" - in which they abandoned overdubbing, having decided it was "gimmicky" - was considered an astonishing creative leap. It also highlights Ross' solo abilities in the track "Julie" and emphasizes many of the group's collaborators, including famed tenor saxophonist Zoot Sims. Trust me, if you're having friends over and need to liven the mood, this will do it.
As the group grew in popularity, Scottish-born Annie Ross caught most of the spotlight, which isn't a huge surprise when you consider that she'd long been a seasoned pro. Under contract to MGM as a child (she was Judy Garland's sister in "Presenting Lily Mars"), she'd already been enjoying a successful solo music career in London and New York before meeting up with Lambert and Hendricks. And, oh, yes, she was beautiful. Never hurts.
Sadly, Ross left the group after four years and seven LPs in 1962, but happily, she embarked on blazing solo career that hasn't stopped as of this writing.
Her best LPs, plus a few extras, are in the four-LP Annie Ross "Classic Albums" CD. I usually loath compilations like this - it's too much of a good thing in one place! - though in this case, it's worth it, since all of the LPs have been gorgeously remastered. Yet she wasn't just singing during this time. She opened her own successful nightclub in London, where our old friend Anita O'Day performed, along with a host of jazz luminaries. She even released her own live 1965 LP performance at her club (and if anyone has that CD, I want it sooooo badly!).
Annie's collaborated with a Who's Who of jazz greats, the most enjoyable match-up, I think, being her live 1967 set in Germany with New Orleans bop-oriented jazz saxophonist and vocalist Pony Poindexter. It sizzles. For reals.
With Annie gone, Lambert and Hendricks weren't about to stop. Instead, they welcomed their new member Yolande Bavan, a stunning Sri Lanka-born jazz vocalist and actress who'd been touring as a singer since her teens. "There was no jazz in Sri Lanka," she once said, " but (as a child), my father one day happened upon a jazz radio station for American servicemen." They were both so enamored by the music that her father started befriending African-American servicemen who sold them jazz records. Then she started singing. And everything changed when she entered and won a local radio singing contest at age sixteen. Months later, she was off touring Australia, Japan and London, and found a mentor in Billie Holiday.
Bavan brought something entirely new to the group, a be-bop voice that could turn on a dime from low-down husky to bird-like soprano. Plus her Sri Lankan accent added a charming World Music flavor, though it wasn't called that at the time. Frequently performing in eye-popping saris, her three Lambert, Hendricks & Bavan LPs were all live recordings, including 1964's joyous "Swingin' Till The Girls Come Home," which includes an appearance by none other than Pony Poindexter.
Their final LP, "Havin' A Ball At the Village Gate," finds the group in fine form, and includes a very funny version of "Three Blind Mice," with Bavan performing as an increasingly drunk little mouse.
By the time 1966 rolled around, Lambert and Hendricks were planning to reunite with Ross for a one-off concert recording. But just before this happened, Lambert was killed on the Connecticut turnpike while changing a tire; whether it was his own tire or that of another motorist's is still disputed. In any case, a passing truck struck him dead at age 49. The group's leader and jazz vocalese pioneer was gone, and so was the group itself. But like Ross, Hendricks had embarked on a solo career. He's been called "pound for pound, the best jazz singer on the planet." If that sounds like hyperbole, it's really not. He was performing professionally by age seven, found himself fielding offers to tour with the likes of Fats Waller by age thirteen, and just after serving in the army during WWII, met up with Lambert and Ross.
In 1993, he joined forces with Wynton Marsalis, amongst many other jazz "all-stars," for his solo show and LP "Boppin' At The Blue Note." If you've never heard of Hendricks, this is a great place to start, distilling - to fantastic effect - his entire career as a celebrated soloist and member of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross.
But my personal favorite is his 1975 LP "Tell Me The Truth," a deliciously suave display of jazz-funk vocal refinement - and really, how can you go wrong when you have The Pointer Sisters doing back-up on the LP's opening track, "Flat Foot Floogie?" Plus, "I'll Bet You Thought I'd Never Find You," which he wrote with Les McCann, is pure smooth-jazz heaven.
The Secret Song File likes all things suave and refined, but let's face it, sometimes you want it a little rough, too. Plus, halloween is coming, which means The Secret Song File is up to her old rough-and-tumble tricks. Pictured below, pity the poor Prom Queen she's about to destroy. Sometimes being rough really does bring a smile to your face:
If you're feeling rough and a li'l out-of-control bluesy, do what The Secret Song File has been doing lately. Play this poppin'-fresh CD by a roof-raising blues singer who's performed with Etta James, done it blissfully up and down the avenue - and now does it on fire, when she's not drinking, even when it's too hard to move. I know you know who she is because she was in this and sounded especially good singing this. Now that's the kind of rough everyone can agree on, right?
Just don't break any furniture or use any props. Because that's tacky.
Tell it like is in the comments, if you like!