When I saw jazz vocalist Annie Ross perform at the Metropolitan Room in New York last year, she paused before starting a number she’d originally recorded with the group Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. She surveyed the crowd. There weren’t many of us there on a Monday night in July, and even less were probably alive when the group parted ways in 1962. “You know what we did back then, right?”
The audience assured Ms. Ross that we knew — if we did not personally remember — what she did “back then” with partners Dave Lambert and Jon Hendricks. The group specialized in vocalese, a style of jazz in which singers add their own lyrics to all-instrumental compositions. A popular example is Ms. Ross’s 1952 version of Wardell Gray’s “Twisted.”
The seeds of hip-hop are evident in vocalese, as it’s not enough to just sing the lyrics. You’ve got to flow. Lambert, Hendricks and Ross deliver with an improvisational casualness that belie the complexity of the arrangements.
Their first album was the 1957 Sing a Song of Basie. Here’s a clip of the three performing “Everyday I Have the Blues.” And, yes, I can relate.
The three used overdubbing to sing all the vocal tracks on the album and the result is remarkable. My favorite of their work together and the album you must download immediately if you haven’t already is the self-titled Lambert, Hendricks & Ross! (also known as The Hottest New Group in Jazz). It also includes the LPs Lambert, Hendricks & Ross Sing Ellington and Rarities. There’s an update of “Twisted,” as well as two versions of Dizzy Gillespie’s classic “A Night in Tunisia.”
Lambert died in 1966. Hendricks is 90 and appeared at the Blue Note last year with Ross, who still wails at 81. When an octogenarian belts out “Rocks in My Bed,” it is an awesome sight.