Sunday, August 19, 2012

Lambert Hendricks Ross – Everybody’s LHR

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

It never ceased to amaze me then - and it continues to amaze me now - how many people, who know very little, if nothing, about Jazz are familiar with the vocal group -  Lambert Hendricks Ross.

Either they or their college roommate had one of LHR’s albums, or their parents had all of the albums or they just memorized some of the vocalese lyrics that Jon Hendricks wrote for the group so that they could sound hip and cool to their friends.

The latter skill is particularly remarkable when you consider that Jon wrote these hip lyrics to accompany the actual Jazz solos that were played on certain classic Jazz recordings and did not base them on the melodies of these songs.

In essence, people who couldn’t put two notes together were able to sing some of the hippest Jazz solos ever recorded thanks to their admiration for Jon’s skills with vocalese, which considering the level of humor, wit and sage philosophy that he brought to the form, he practically re-invented.

The group was only together for a few years and recorded relatively few albums, but when you consider the vocal talent on display and the brilliant lyrics which were applied to some of the most memorable solos ever recorded, there is nothing else like LHR in the history of Jazz.

And while I was familiar with Dave Lambert and Annie Ross as individual vocalists I knew virtually nothing about Jon Hendricks or how LHR came into existence, that is, until the September 1959 edition of Down beat magazine arrived in my mailbox and I found this article by Gene Lees.

It features Jon’s history of the LHR using the too-hip-for-the-room style that he employs in his rhyming vocalese lyrics.

© -  Gene Lees, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“EDITORS NOTE – In the wee small hours of a morning at Newport this year [1959], I told Jon Hendricks that DownBeat would like to do a story on the LHR group. "Why not let me write it?" Jon said. I hedged and hesitated for a moment (perhaps Jon will remember it) and then began running some of his remarkable LHR lyrics over in my mind. "OK," I said.

We kicked the idea around a bit, notably backstage at Chicago's Regal The­ater, and I learned that Jon was thinking of doing the article in rhyme, no less. I shook my head a bit, reassured myself that his tremendous taste and talent would not fail, even in the unfamiliar task of writing an article, swallowed hard and said: "Wild."

Jon telephoned from time to time as he worked on the article. I began to get nerv­ous. Deadline was approaching, and I had already scheduled the cover photo to go with the article. "You have to promise me you won't change a thing," Jon said. That made me more nervous.

When the piece at last arrived—right on deadline—I scanned it, still nervously at first, then less nervously, and finally, jubi­lantly. It was—and is—one of the strangest articles I've ever read. As promised, it rhymed. Not unexpectedly, it sounded like an LHR lyric without the music. It also had in places the delightful flavor of an Ogden Nash poem. And finally, I guessed that some astute reader would look at its last line and think of James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake.

Jon didn't say this in the article, but he has done a lot of thinking about the possi­bilities of true jazz opera. The article tends to validate his theory that it can—and should—be done.

Lambert, Hendricks and Ross is one of the most remarkable groups in jazz today. With their vocals on famous instru­mental numbers, they have broken up audiences at every jazz festival they have played this summer—and they have played most of them, with more yet to come, including Monterey. Where their jazz-vocals experiment will lead is something no one, including Jon, pretends to be able to predict with certainty. All that anyone knows for sure is that their popularity is huge and growing, that they deserve it and that the end is not in sight.

In the meantime, here is Jon Hen­dricks' story on LHR. As Dave Lambert said to me, explaining why when he worked on construction he liked to use jackhammers, "I dug it." I hope you will, too. —Ed.”

© -  Jon Hendricks, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“As to dates, times, names and places,

My accuracy ain't apt to be too outstand­ing. Data's too demanding. I haven't the faintest idea on what date Dave Lambert's birthday occurs, and experience with women and the subject of age gives me bet­ter sense than to ask Annie Ross hers, so, on biographical data I won't be too factual. However, on matters of the heart and soul I hope to be very actual, 'cause if you're gonna know how Dave Lambert, Annie Ross and I have such a collective ball while singing our individual parts, you'll have to know that it comes from what we fondly recall, and what is in our hearts.

Some people say our name is a clumsy name for a singing group to be stuck with. They compare it to Merrill, Lynch, Pierce, Fenner and Smith, an overstatement, by far. Actually we call ourselves Lambert, Hendricks and Ross for no other reason than that's who we are! And so that your understanding of our name will gain even more clearance, if you dig what I mean, our name describes the order of our appearance on the scene.

Dave Lambert, ex-everything under the sun and musical truth-seeker, came home from high school in New England one day, heard a Count Basie record on an out­side downtown radio-shop-loudspeaker on the way, and the amazement that there could be such a feelin' never left him after that. When I engaged Dave to do the vocal adaptation of Jimmy Giuffre's "Four Broth­ers" arrangement, he bent my ear about doing a lyricised Basie album in nothin' flat! While we were rehearsing "Four Brothers," or listening to what each other was sayin', Dave made sure some Basie records were playin'. He'd play the old things most, the "good ol' ones" we both grew up listening to, and again we heard the marvel of them all. In this era of "conservatories," we heard the old Basie band full of natural musicians from their heart play more jazz than any­body we've ever heard, no matter how smart. And nary one of 'em knew what the inside of a music school looked like. They just played and had a ball.

Finally I got Dave's subtle message (as subtle as a ton of coal on the head) and stopped listening casually and got t' writ­ing lyrics instead. I soon had words to "Down for the Count" and "Blues Back­stage" and Dave adapted Frank Foster's arrangements for voices, then we started making choices of recording company A&R men. (Means "artist and repertory" and they're to blame if the recording out­put sounds a bit gory. Their judgment of a “hit” often depends on how much a new tune sounds like the last “hit.” They often are unable to see any future in a tune because of a single-minded preoccupation with a past hit!)

Creed Taylor of ABC-Paramount is a rarity among his kind. He has his own taste and uses his own mind. I’m happy to state.

During the time we were working on Sing A Song of Basie for Creed, I lived and wrote in Greenwich Village, which I had always thought of in an artistic way, but which I found retaining only an artistic façade, masking pseudo-intellectual morbidness ‘midst moral decay.  It may be a good place to stay up late in, but its new, thrill-seeking Freud-spouting population has rendered it no longer a desirable place to create in. (Don’t blame DownBeat, this is my personal contention—just a little something I thought I'd mention.)

For our first date, Dave contracted 12 experienced singers he had known and used before as the Dave Lambert Singers, some of whom worked on such programs as The Perry Como Show and Your Hit Parade, and who had reputations some­thing fierce. We also had the Basie rhythm section, Freddy Greene, Sonny Payne and Eddie Jones, with Nat Pierce.

It was during this first date that the spiritual quality that is in all jazz, and prominently so in Basie, made itself mani­fest; that spiritual quality we—and Ray Charles—got in church, and got so West Coast cool we left in the lurch and got back to for 30 pieces of Horace Silver, after a long, cold search.

Those singers had music and lyrics, but that spiritual quality was missing at the very first test, even though they tried their best. Eddie Jones saw and heard and laid his fiddle gently down and walked amongst them and talked to them and spread the word, and Sonny Payne and Nat Pierce did, too. Freddie sat placidly by and regarded it all with an ever-patient eye and didn't move to get his message through, just sat calm, like he usually do. What Eddie Jones told those singers about "layin' back, but not slowin' down" was beautifully true, but when all the gentle urging was done there was no concealing that those well-trained singers still couldn't sing Basie with that spiritual feeling— except one—a silent, beautiful red-haired girl Dave had introduced me to several days before at Bob Bach's house in Wash­ington Mews, a name I remembered from then-current theatrical news as starring in an imported-from-London Broadway review called Cranks. But I remembered more; five years or so earlier than then—a Prestige record given me by Teacho Wilt­shire, who recorded "Four Brothers" vocal­ly first, a record of a vocal version of Wardell Gray's "Twisted," excellent lyric by Annie Ross—better than good—boss!

Yes, Annie Ross has that feeling, that feeling you can't learn in no school, that feel­ing that the men in the old Basie band had from birth and got together in nightclubs and tent shows. And don't get the idea schools, to them, are unknown, 'cause those men started a few schools of their own! Pick a tenor player at random and, no matter what he says, chances are, at one time or another he studied under Pres. And make no bones about it—Jo Jones invented the sock cymbal, and don't ever doubt about it.

Philly Joe know.

And every trumpet player ever plays through a "bucket" mute oughta know that Buck Clayton's real nickname ain't Buck—it's "Bucket!" (Ain't that cute.)

At any rate, the first Sing a Song of Basie was scrapped and, thanks to Creed Taylor, we got another chance—but what to do? Dave Lambert knew. Dave has a tal­ent for putting very large possibilities into a very few words. "Annie feels it," he said. "Let's you, me 'n Annie do it." Coming from anyone else I'd have thought such an idea was for the birds, because of the hard work entailed, but I soon saw the beauty of Dave's suggestion, especially if we all three really wailed.

From the time we started out, Annie knew what she was about. She did every­thing with ease and a naturalness found only in great artists, I guess. Annie Ross is more than just a singer, to say the least. She is an artiste. Every night, on "Avenue C," she stands up there between Dave and me and hits that last note, F above high C, as though it were any note—and it might as well be! I remember when Dave asked her if she could make that note and she said, "No, never," so Dave said he'd change it, winked at me and left it like it was, and Annie sings it like she's been singing it forever.

So we did Sing a Song of Basie alone, Dave, Annie, the Basie rhythm section with Nat Pierce, and me, and the rest is known. When people would congratulate us on our artistic success, it got to be an un­funny joke, cause Dave and I stayed broke. Annie was straight. She was singing on the Patrice Munsel Show, which is like a per­manent record date. Then, one day at Dave's house, I saw the strangest sight I've ever seen: Sing a Song of Basie showed up in DownBeat as number thirteen! So Dave and I decided to see if we could get some gigs—just local. We envisioned nothing on a grand scale for an act so unusually vocal. Annie was in Europe then, sendin' mes­sages that everything was dandy, so 'til Annie got back we worked with Flo Handy, wife of George Handy and singer of great skill, and the Great South Bay Jazz Festival put us on last year's bill.

Later, the MJQ's manager, Monte Kay, set us up an audition with Willard Alexan­der one day. Willard got so excited he made us wonder what we had! We weren't all that sure it was good, but when you knock somebody out like Willard Alexander, you know it ain't all bad. Annie came back from Europe and joined Dave and me, and Willard signed us immediately.

As to how Basie feels about us, that'll be easy to understand, 'cause he invited us to do an album with his band, yet! (Sing Along with Basie, on Roulette.) Our cur­rent album, to be specific, is The Swingers on Dick Bock's World Pacific, with Zoot Sims, Russ Freeman and Basie's steady three men, Eddie Jones, Sonny Payne and Freddie Greene, the finest rhythm section anybody's ever seen.

We've just been honored by being asked to sign with Columbia Records, under the aegis of Mr. Irving Townsend. "Moanin'," by the pianist with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, Bobby Timmons, and "Cloudburst," a Sam-the-Man Taylor saxophone solo, are about ready for single release, and there's an album of Ellingtonia in the works, so who knows where it will cease?

My brother, Jim Hendricks, manages to manage us—an unmanageable task, and as for how we feel about what's happened to us—need you ask? How far Lambert, Hendricks and Ross will go is something I don't pretend to know, but, since I write a lot of the words we sing, I can tell you what message I'll bring: that opera houses dedi­cated to European musical culture are not the American norm. Jazz is America's cul­tural art form. To say that our opera hous­es are the Chicago, the San Francisco and the Metropolitan just doesn't follow. Amer­ica's real opera houses—as one day, pray, the American people may realize—are the Howard Theater in Washington, D.C., the Regal Theater in Chicago and Harlem's Apollo. And our divas are not singers of the kind of music Europe has, but Billie, and Ella, and Sarah, and they sing jazz!

We are honored anew every time a jazz musician compliments us, because we know they know what it's all about, but to have three great jazz musicians accompany us is something about which to shout. We have the Ike Isaacs Trio—Gildo Mahones, piano; Kahlil Madi, drums; and Ike on bass—and we hope to take them with us every place.

As for me—I'm the ninth child and the seventh son of Rev. and Mrs. A.B. Hen­dricks. I have eleven brothers and three sis­ters, all reared in the African Episcopal Church around Toledo, Ohio. All other data can be found in my bio. My musical educa­tion consisted of singing Negro spirituals and hymns with my mother in church, singing in bars and grills for whatever people threw me, which, praise be, was never out, singing in nightclubs at thirteen (they used to bill me as "The Sepia Bobby Breen!"), accompanied for one magical spell by a local pianist whose family were our neighbors, whom we knew well—Art Tatum, who started on the violin, but sat down to the piano and never got up again. I was fortunate enough to have learned to lis­ten to him early and I'm glad I paid heed, 'cause I never did learn how to read.

When Bird came through Toledo one night with Max, Tommy Potter (now with "Sweets"), Kenny Dorham and Al Haig to play a dance, I got a long-awaited, unex­pected chance to scat a few choruses, after which, while Kenny Dorham blew, I start­ed to split, but Bird motioned me to Kenny's chair next to him and said, with that warm smile, "Sit awhile." I ended up scatting the whole set, and before they left, Bird said, "Look me up when you get to New York. Don't forget."

It was two years later when I got to New York. Bird was playing at the Apollo Bar uptown, and I got up there fast as any­one can. And when I walked past the band­stand, Bird waved at me and spoke my name and thrilled me to kingdom come when he said, "Wanna' sing some?" and two years passed away as though it had been only one day! Roy Haynes was playing drums and I was a drummer (who had just put his drums in pawn), but when I heard Roy with Bird I said to myself, "That's it for my drumming. Them days is gone!"

I knew nothing about the New York scene except what I'd seen or heard, so I decided to judge everybody by "who stood up with Bird," or, if they didn't ever share the same bandstand, how did they stand with the man. Dave Lambert did "Old Folks" and "In the Still of the Night" with Bird, vocal arrangements by Dave, musical arrangements by Gil Evans, among the more beautiful things I've ever heard. Annie Ross sang with Bird a few times. The fact I'm trying not to keep it hid is that, at one time or another, all three of us did. It's a coincidence with a spiritual qual­ity I can't name, but Dave Lambert, Annie Ross and I came together naturally, just at the time when jazz began to receive wide public acclaim.

As a writer of words, this gives me a great responsibility, especially to American youth: Tell the truth! Interpret the compo­sitions and jazz composers, writing today, not three hundred years passed away. And the composers are numerous, most everybody playing, and all I have to do is tell the people what they’re saying.”

If your not familiar with Lambert Hendricks Ross, you’ll find the music on the following video tribute to them to be a real treat. If you already a fan, then you may enjoy reacquainting yourself with some old friends. The music of LHR is one of Jazz’s great gifts to the world. [Click on the ”X” to close out of the ads should they appear.]