Jazz Singer Jon Hendricks Dies At 96

Nov 23, 2017
Originally published on November 23, 2017 7:56 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Now a moment to remember the musician Jon Hendricks, who died yesterday at the age of 96. He was a master of vocalese - putting words to jazz instrumentals. He would start with something like "Freddie Freeloader" by Miles Davis.

(SOUNDBITE OF JON HENRICKS SONG, "FREDDIE FREELOADER")

SHAPIRO: And then he'd carefully choose words and sounds for certain instruments. In this case, trumpet, sax, alto sax and piano.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FREDDIE FREELOADER")

JON HENDRICKS: (Singing) Free booze, free blues, free dues - enough to get you drunk. Freddie.

SHAPIRO: That's Hendricks singing in 1990 with George Benson, Al Jarreau and Bobby McFerrin. His aim was to fit his words not just to the melodies, but to the most technically demanding jazz solos. And with his lyrics, he would reference practically anything, from controversy over Shakespeare's identity to the Spanish Civil War. Though, drinking does seem to be a favorite theme.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FREDDIE FREELOADER")

HENDRICKS: (Singing) And lots of people tend to think all they have to do is light a joint or take a drink for them to reach the same euphoric brink. Forget it. It never will be so because alcohol and them narcotics will never do the trick. You got to do it like I said or mess your body up by shooting stuff and getting sick. Don't ever listen to your intellect.

SHAPIRO: Jon Hendricks was born in Newark, Ohio - one of 14 children, the son of a minister. He said his job was to help his father look up bible verses for Sunday sermons, and that's how he became so precise with his lyrics.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CLOUDBURST")

LAMBERT, HENDRICKS AND ROSS: (Singing) I was blue, and I was always wearing a frown because my gal had turned me down. Then, we met and you can bet I knew from the first you were my love because that's when the old gray cloud burst.

SHAPIRO: He was most famous as part of the trio Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. Their first album, which put words to Count Basie's music, was released in 1958 and became a surprise hit.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CLOUDBURST")

HENDRICKS: (Singing) Hey, baby. I'm going to tell you about your loving and your kissing and your hugging and your sweet turtle doving. Pretty baby, I won't be satisfied till I hear them play "Here Comes The Bride."

SHAPIRO: Dave Lambert, Jon Hendricks and Annie Ross made several more albums before breaking up in the early '60s. Hendricks kept working. He was known for his good humor and relentless enthusiasm. He collaborated with the Manhattan Transfer, won Grammys, wrote music reviews and taught classes at the University of Toledo - his alma mater. He also kept performing almost to the end of his long life.

Jazz vocalist and lyricist Jon Hendricks died yesterday at his home in Manhattan. He was 96.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'LL DIE HAPPY")

HENDRICKS: (Singing) I'm a real fast-liver and a trouble-giver. I'm a whiskey-taster and a money-waster. And the old folks say I won't live long, but I'll die happy. Well, I'm a good time-lover living undercover. I'm a real low raider and an aggravator, and I know I won't always be strong. But I'll die happy. So when they plant my body... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.