Jazz at 100 Hour 50: Vocalese

Lambert, Hendricks & Ross

Arising out of bebop vocals, a number of singers in the 1950s began to replicate famous instrumental solos with the human voice. The practice, initiated by Eddie Jefferson, King Pleasure and Annie Ross was known as vocalese and reached its peak in the extraordinary recordings of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross.

King Pleasure.
“What is Vocalese? Penguin’s New Dictionary of Music describes vocalise (sic) as ‘a wordless composition for solo voice, whether for training purposes or concert performance.’ Jazz writers often use the term to describe any extended scat singing, such as Anita O’Day’s or Ella Fitzgerald. Eddie Jefferson meant something far more specific, something quite the opposite of improvisation.” For example, Jefferson, used the tenor solo on James Moody’s version of “I’m in the Mood for Love” as the basis for a new song “Moody’s Mood for Love. “Instead of a wordless scat, Jefferson and [then, singer] King Pleasure verbalized every note that Moody played, matching him inflection for inflection…” – Will Friedwald

Moody’s Mood For Love (aka I’m In The Mood For Love). King Pleasure Nonet
(Merrill Stepter-tp, Lem Davis-as, Ray Abrams-ts, Cecil Payne-bs, Teacho Wiltshire-p, Leonard Gaskin-b, Teddy Lee-d, King Pleasure-voc, Blossom Dearie-voc). 2/19/1952
Blossom Dearie sings the piano solo created by Thore Swanerud in James Moody’s 1949 version of I’m in the Mood for Love that inspired this recording.

Parker’s Mood. King Pleasure Quartet
(John Lewis-p, Percy Heath-b, Kenny Clarke-d, King Pleasure-voc). From King Pleasure Sings / Annie Ross Sings. 12/24/1953
Based on Charlie Parker’s Parker’s Mood from 1948.

Red Top. Charlie Ferguson Quintet with King Pleasure
(Charlie Ferguson-ts, Eddie Lewis-tp, Ed Swanson-p, Pete Morrison-b, Herbie Lovelle-d, King Pleasure-voc, Betty Carter-voc). From King Pleasure Sings / Annie Ross Sings. 12/12/1952
Based on Gene Ammons’s Red Top from 1947.

Eddie Jefferson.
When Eddie Jefferson first started putting lyrics to jazz solos in 1950, there was little interest. King Pleasure’s success in covering his Moody’s Mood for Love, gave his career a boost. “Yeah, he copped those lyrics,” Eddie Jefferson remembers, “but in a way it opened up for me.”

I Got The Blues. James Moody Septet
(Dave Burns-tp, William Shepard-tb, James Moody-as/ts, Pee Wee Moore-bs, Jimmy Boyd-p, John Latham-b, Clarence Johnston-d, Eddie Jefferson-voc). From Moody’s Mood for Blues. 1/28/1955

Workshop. James Moody Septet
(Dave Burns-tp, William Shepard-tb, James Moody-as/ts, Pee Wee Moore-bs, Sadik Hakim-p, John Latham-b, Joe Harris-d, Eddie Jefferson-voc). From Moody. 1/8/1954
Based on James Moody’s Workshop from 1948.

Annie Ross.
“In October [1952, Annie Ross] made the records that probably first brought her to the attention of [Dave] Lambert and [Jon] Hendricks, “Twisted” and “Farmers Market,” which Bob Weinstock of Prestige marketed as a successful follow up to “Mood’s Mood for Love” in the vocalese stakes. It sold and might have been the basis for a solo career, but by the time it picked up steam Ross had already beaten it back to Europe as Lionel Hampton’s [singer]” – Will Friedwald

Twisted. Annie Ross
(Teacho Wiltshire-p, George Wallington-p, Roger Ram Ramirez-org, Percy Heath-b, Art Blakey-d, Annie Ross-voc). From King Pleasure Sings / Annie Ross Sings. 10/9/1952
Based on Wardell Gray’s Twisted from 1949.

Farmer’s Market. Annie Ross
(Teacho Wiltshire-p, George Wallington-p, Roger Ram Ramirez-org, Percy Heath-b, Art Blakey-d, Annie Ross-voc). From King Pleasure Sings / Annie Ross Sings. 10/9/1952
Based on Wardell Gray’s Farmer’s Market from 1952.

Lambert, Hendricks & Ross.
In 1957, Lambert and Hendrix recruited Annie Ross as a vocal coach for a project that became the LP Lambert, Hendrix &Ross Sing a Song of Basie. “The Basie record is in a sense atypical. For a start, one associates the group with bebop rather than the swing masters, but it was a smart place to begin. Their intention had been to re-create the Basie band with a large vocal ensemble but, when the studio singers proved inadequate, the trio ended up singing all the lines themselves via overdubbing, and the set became a kind of novelty hit. Hendricks’s lyrics are often a hoot, and the record set a precedent for a style which many have followed, few bettered.” – Brian Morton & Richard Cook

“Sing a Song of Basie (Verve) was the first and best of the albums by Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. The trio did not yet exist as an act during the year it took to conceive and execute their unique debut, a triumph of multi-tracking in which three singers become the Count Basie Orchestra (aside from the rhythm section) and capture more of its dynamics and swing than anyone would have thought possible. With Annie Ross hitting the trumpet tuttis, Dave Lambert providing the trombone range, and Jon Hendricks wailing the saxophone solos and, in one of the most prodigious verbal feats in jazz history, writing all the lyrics, they replicate the band while infusing it with an exhilaration that only the voice can impart. On their sensational ‘Everyday [I Have the Blues],’ they increase the drama of Ernie Wilkins’s instrumental prelude and capture the subsequent orchestration as Hendricks sings the Joe Williams vocal. They make Neal Hefti’s ‘Little Pony’ a horserace, as Hendricks turns Wardell Gray’s tenor solo into a stream-of-consciousness rant… After you’ve heard Ross sing the piano solo on ‘One O’Clock Jump,’ you can never again hear Basie’s record the same way.” – Gary Giddins

Every Day I Have the Blues. Lambert, Hendricks & Ross
(Nat Pierce-p, Freddie Greene-g, Eddie Jones-b, Sonny Payne-d, Jon Hendricks-voc, Dave Lambert-voc, Annie Ross-voc). From Sing a Song of Basie. 11/26/1957

Little Pony. Lambert, Hendricks & Ross
(Nat Pierce-p, Freddie Greene-g, Eddie Jones-b, Sonny Payne-d, Jon Hendricks-voc, Dave Lambert-voc, Annie Ross-voc). From Sing a Song of Basie. 11/26/1957

One O’Clock Jump. Lambert, Hendricks & Ross
(Nat Pierce-p, Freddie Greene-g, Eddie Jones-b, Sonny Payne-d, Jon Hendricks-voc, Dave Lambert-voc, Annie Ross-voc). From Sing a Song of Basie. 11/26/1957

“After living with this album for years or decades, you begin to hear the original instrumentals as though they had all been planned, composed, inevitable. If I haven’t made it clear, there is no scat singing on Sing a Song of Basie. Every note of the original orchestrations and improvisations has a word fitted to it and becomes part of an overall story.” – Gary Giddins

Home Cooking. Lambert, Hendricks & Ross.
From Everybody’s Boppin. 3/14/1961
Based on Horace Silver’s recording of 1957.

Bob Dorough.
In 1956, pianist, vocalist, composer, songwriter Bob Dorough made his first record, Devil May Care. In addition to several of his own compositions, he included vocalese versions of Charlie Parker’s “Yardbird Suite” and Dizzy Gillespie’s “Ow”. Bob Dorough said in 1991, ‘I got a call from Miles Davis one day, completely out of nowhere. This would be 1962. He wanted me to write a Christmas song for him! I think he’d heard me doing ‘Yardbird Suite‘. So I wrote him ‘Blue Xmas’ and we recorded it. It’s on that record [Jingle Bell Jazz]. I use it to impress young people sometimes. ‘Yes, I remember when I was in the studio with Miles Davis …’” In addition to his star turn with Miles, Dorough is best known writing and singing tunes like “Three is a Magic Number” or “Conjunction Junction” for Schoolhouse Rock during his run from 1972 – 1996.

Yardbird Suite. Bob Dorough Quintet
(Warren Fitzgerald-tp, Jack Hitchcock-vib, Bob Dorough-p/vo, Bill Takus-b, Jerry Segal-d). From Devil May Care. 10/1956

Ow. Bob Dorough Quintet
(Warren Fitzgerald-tp, Jack Hitchcock-vib, Bob Dorough-p/vo, Bill Takus-b, Jerry Segal-d). From Devil May Care. 10/1956

Vocalese remains as a challenging exercise for jazz vocalists to this day, one that is engaged in only sporadically. Not since the heyday of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross has a singer or singing group focused on vocalese so completely.

This concludes the fiftieth program of the series Jazz at 100. We broadcast the first program on the 100th anniversary of the first jazz recording – Livery Stable Blues, recorded by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band on February 26, 1917. Our goal is to tell the story of 100 years of jazz recordings in 100 one-hour programs. We are halfway through the arc of that narrative. We have come a long way.

This would be a good time to recognize WTJU’s General Manager, Nathan Moore, and Jazz Director, David Eisenman for their leadership and support of this undertaking; Producer and Content Director, Lewis Reining, for his day-to-day guidance and unfailing patience; and Office Manager, Gayle Poirier, for holding it all together. Fellow WTJU announcers Gary Funston, Dave Rogers and Brian Keena have offered generous encouragement and advice. WTJU alumnus Hal Dean has used the occasion of this search to guide me into corners of the jazz world of which I was unaware. Musicians John D’earth, Robert Jospe, Jeff Decker, Pete Spaar, Art Wheeler and Stephanie Nakasian have all enriched this narrative. Regular listeners to this series will also know that I rely heavily on the great work of many jazz writers, with Scott DeVeaux, Ted Gioia, Gary Giddins, Ben Ratliff, Brian Morton and Richard Cook at the forefront. Without this foundation, my efforts to build this edifice would be futile. Please join me for the next 50 programs.

When Charlie Parker died at 34 in 1955, it was as if an ancient tree fell in the forest with the resulting sunlight promoting the growth of numerous alto saxophone progeny. From the West Coast Jazz scene came Art Pepper; Phil Woods kept the bebop alto sound alive; Jackie McLean became the standard against which hard bop altoists were measured; and Cannonball Adderley brought a lyricism and drive that anchored soul jazz in the 1960s. The Alto After Bird, in the next hour of Jazz at 100.

Recordings.
Various Artists Jumpin’ & Jivin’. Specialty Records 7065
King Pleasure Sings/Annie Ross Sings. Prestige PRLP 7128
James Moody’s Moods. Prestige PRLP 7056
James Moody. Moody. Prestige PRLP 7072
Lambert, Hendricks & Ross Sing a Song of Basie. ABC-Paramount ABC 223
Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. Everybody’s Boppin. Columbia CK 45020
Bob Dorough. Devil May Care. Bethlehem BCP 11

Resources.
Friedwald, Will. 1990. Jazz Singing: America’s Great Voices from Bessie Smith to Bebop and Beyond. New York, NY. Charles Scribner’s Sons.
Modernism 1: Sing a Song of Bebop
Giddins, Gary. 2004. Weather Bird: Jazz at the Dawn of Its Second Century. New York. Oxford University Press.
Chapter 84. Weird and Forgotten Dreams (Charles Mingus / Helen Carr / Herb Jeffries / LH&R / Sarah Vaughan)
Morton, Brian & Cook, Richard. 2011. Penguin Jazz Guide, the History of the Music in the 1001 Best Albums. New York, NY. Penguin Books
James Moody. Moody’s Mood For Blues
Lambert, Hendricks & Ross Sing a Song of Basie
Bob Dorough. Devil May Care

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