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Jon Hendricks: Poet Laureate, Godfather of Jazz Vocalese

Roseanna Vitro’s interview with the influential singer and lyricist

Jon Hendricks
Jon Hendricks (photo: Richard Conde)

If there was ever a more swinging bebop singer than Jon Hendricks, I don’t know who it was. He was clearly born to scat sing, easily maneuvering through difficult twists and turns in Charlie Parker solos, swinging through Count Basie’s book and singing Duke Ellington’s music with integrity and spirit. At 93, he’s still ready to meet life’s struggles as an artist, with a twinkle in his eye. He was raised in a family with fourteen siblings and developed strong survival skills from his father, a preacher at the Warren, Ohio A.M.E church. With Art Tatum living down the street, Jon’s ears were fed the right notes and feel from his youth forward.

In 1957, Jon teamed up with Dave Lambert and Annie Ross to form the most influential vocal jazz group the world has known. Jon discovered his talent for writing lyrics to jazz solos, as did the great Annie Ross. Hair-raising scat solos flowed with the speed of light from Dave Lambert and Jon. Lambert, Hendricks and Ross unquestionably remain an inspiration to all jazz singers around the world today.

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Originally Published

Roseanna Vitro

Roseanna Vitro is a jazz vocalist who has released 14 albums on the Concord, Telarc, Challenge, and Motéma labels—achieving a Grammy nomination in 2010 for The Music of Randy Newman—and has toured as a featured artist on every continent but Antarctica, including two tours as a Jazz Ambassador for the U.S. State Department. Also an educator, she taught college-level courses for New Jersey City University, SUNY Purchase, and NJPAC over the course of 20 years. As a jazz advocate, she has produced records for fellow musicians, chaired seminars, lectured and presented clinics globally, and regularly interviews other singers for JazzTimes; a full list of her JT columns is here. Contact her at RoseannaVitro.com.