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Jon Hendricks, singer, lyricist, and drummer, was born in 1921 in Newark, Ohio. Called "the Poet Laureate of Jazz" by jazz critic and historian Leonard Feather, Hendricks has earned the sobriquet "The King of Vocalese" during his more than 67 years as a professional performer, and he has written or lyricized more than 400 songs.
He began appearing on radio in Toledo, and there met and was mentored by the extraordinary pianist, Art Tatum. With saxophonist Louis Jordan, Hendricks recorded his songs "Feed Me, I'll Die Happy," "Messy Bessie" and "I Want You to Be My Baby." In 1957, he made the albums "Four Brothers" and "Cloudburst" with the Dave Lambert Singers.
One of the most successful vocal groups of all time, the trio Lambert, Hendricks and (Annie) Ross formed in 1958, and their multi-tracked album "Sing a Song of Basie" became one of the earliest examples of overdubbing. Yolande Bavan replaced Ross in 1963, and the group began adding words to jazz instrumental classics, including those of Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Woody Herman and others to create a repertory of jazz vocals that influenced such artists as Barry Manilow, Joni Mitchell, Bobby McFerrin, the Manhattan Transfer and the Pointer Sisters.
Hendricks wrote lyrics for Monk's "In Walked Bud" and many other Monk songs. He moved to London in 1968 (the same year that he was voted number one jazz singer in the Melody Maker poll, topping both Ray Charles and Frank Sinatra) and performed in Europe and Africa for five years. He frequently performed on British television and appeared in the British film "Jazz Is Our Religion" and the French film "Hommage à Cole Porter."
He then moved to California, where he was a jazz critic for the San Francisco Chronicle and taught classes at three universities. His 1985 album "Vocalese" won five Grammy awards. His television documentary, Somewhere to Lay My Weary Head, received Emmy, Iris, and Peabody awards. His stage work Evolution of the Blues ran an unprecedented five years at the Broadway Theatre in San Francisco. Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey and Buck Clayton are among many others with whom Hendricks has worked and recorded.
For the title track of the 1990 Denon album "Freddie the Freeloader," Hendricks, joined by Bobby McFerrin, George Benson and Al Jarreau, recreated all of the fabulous trumpet solos Miles Davis had laid down in his 1959 "Kind of Blue" album. Hendricks recorded "Boppin' at the Blue Note" with Wynton Marsalis, making his scat singing debut. When Marsalis wrote his 1997 oratorio "Blood on the Fields," Hendricks was the librettist.
Hendricks toured Europe in 1996 in a show called "Forty Years of Benny Golson" with a cast that included Golson, trumpeter Art Farmer, trombonist Curtis Fuller. In May of 1997, Hendricks was the featured performer and only American on a program in The Hague, where he performed before numerous heads of state, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Marshall Plan. His autobiography, published by Berlin Verslag, is entitled Mind on Fire.