Singer Jon Hendricks, 'poet laureate of jazz', dies at 96

Jon Hendricks at his 75th birthday concert at the Lincoln Centre in New York, Sept 16, 1996. PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK (AFP) - Jon Hendricks, a jazz singer whose compelling scat-style renditions and lyricizing of instrumental standards earned him the nickname "the James Joyce of jive", has died in New York, his family told The New York Times. He was 96.

No cause of death was given.

Performers from trumpeter Wynton Marsalis to composer/playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda offered warm tributes on social media to a musician Downbeat magazine called "one of the most important vocalists in jazz history."

Known in the 1950s and 1960s for his role in the popular vocal trio Hendricks, Lambert & Ross, he was considered a master of the art of scatting, rhythmically putting nonsense words - "Skap-a-dap-a-doodily-bap" - to driving and intricate jazz tunes.

Hendricks was also considered a pioneer of "vocalese", writing lyrics for instrumental songs, including standards like Desifinado and Along Came Betty.

The winner of multiple Grammy awards, he was sometimes called the "poet laureate of jazz."


Born John Carl Hendricks in 1921 in Newark, Ohio, he was one of 15 children of an itinerant Methodist pastor.

His mother led the church choir, and he began singing at age seven. By 10, he later said, "I was a local celebrity." As a teenager, he sang on the radio with another Toledo native, Art Tatum, later to become one of jazz's most celebrated pianists.

After military service in World War II, Hendricks briefly studied law before taking up an offer made when legendary jazzman Charlie "Bird" Parker was passing through Toledo, and he headed to New York.

It was there that he, Dave Lambert and Annie Ross joined in 1956 to form their vocal trio, soon ranked by Melody Maker magazine as the world's top vocal group. Their album High Flying won a Grammy Award.

Hendricks later pursued a solo career, touring in Europe and Africa before settling down for a time in California's Bay area, where he worked as a newspaper jazz critic and taught college courses in jazz.

Active to the end, he earlier this year finished lyricizing the 1957 Miles Davis album Miles Ahead. And when the project premiered in New York, 96-year-old Hendricks was in attendance.

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