Jon Hendricks, Influential Jazz Vocalist, Dies at 96

Getty Images
Jon Hendricks

He was known for skillfully bringing lyrics to instrumental improvisations that augmented the songs' titles and added to their narratives.

Jon Hendricks, the jazz singer known for furthering the art of vocalese with trio Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, died Wednesday in a New York City hospital. He was 96.

His daughter, Aria Hendricks, confirmed his death to The New York Times.

Born John Carl Hendricks — the Times explained he dropped the “h” from his first name when he became a performer — on Sept. 16, 1921 in Newark, Ohio, the singer was a pioneer in popular jazz. He was known for skillfully bringing lyrics to instrumental improvisations that augmented the songs' titles and added to their narratives. The practice, known as vocalese, was conceived by singer Eddie Jefferson but expanded upon by Hendricks with his jazz group.

Lambert, Hendricks & Ross was comprised of Hendricks, Dave Lambert and Annie Ross (and later her replacement, Yolande Bavan). Together, they found success with the 1958 album Sing a Song of Basie, released on ABC-Paramount Records, before recording more LPs with Columbia Records and some live albums and eventually splitting up in 1964.

In 1962, their High Flying album was awarded a Grammy for best performance by a vocal group. In 1998, Sing a Song of Basie was honored with a Grammy Hall of Fame Award.

Hendricks also created Evolution of the Blues, a stage show that ran for five years in San Francisco, and served as a jazz teacher and critic.

Later in his career, he performed alongside his wife, Judith, with the vocal quartet Jon Hendricks and Company. His children also joined in on performances, as did singer Bobby McFerrin. Hendricks and McFerrin went on to win a Grammy for the song "Another Night in Tunisia" in 1986; Hendricks was credited for writing the lyrics.

In 1997, he was in a touring ensemble that performed Wynton Marsalis’ Pulitzer Prize-winning Blood on the Fields.

Hendricks is survived by daughters Aria and Michele, son Jon Jr., three grandchildren and a niece. Judith died in 2015. 

This story first appeared on Billboard.com.