71. LH+R and Vocalese

Posted on 16/10/2017

71. LH+R and Vocalese

They were a mesmerising vocal group in the late 50’s and early 60’s. Its worth watching their interaction in the following video. Lambert was much older than the other two and had always been fascinated by jazz vocals. Ross and Hendricks had also been involved in vocalese. This is the art of writing and singing words which use the melodies of famous jazz instrumental solos.


The wonderfully worn face of Lambert stands out. He plays the subordinate role to the two other singers, both of whom take solos. Hendricks was the most considerable musical talent. Indeed its interesting to speculate whether all three of them could still be alive had not Lambert walked into a car in 1966. Both Ross (87) and Hendricks (96) are still going. Vocalese is obviously good for you if you avoid traffic.

The genre began in the 40’s and 50’s but LH +R were the first superstars of the genre. Manhattan Transfer were the second. Annie Ross wrote the witty words to an existing instrumental called ‘Twisted’ and here they are:

Ross did indeed have a troubled childhood, and later had a struggle to end the heroin addiction that put paid to the vocal group. It ends with the splendid phrase that ‘two heads are better than one’ having (insanely) concluded that she had in fact got two of them.

The following song is based on a famous jazz tune called ‘dis here’ and makes a really good lyric and tune based on the original solo. I suppose vocalese was bound to be shortlived, as the culture of playing jazz solos that were tuneful had more or less ended by the 1970’s. Solos then became virtuoso exhibitions rather than beautiful tunes as they had been in the 40’s and 50’s.

I’m not sure what jazz solo Sermonette is based upon, but its a brilliant song, as witness:

The last song features a solo by Lambert, whose voice was quite light compared with the other two but he had great verbal dexterity which makes it a joy to watch him singing. The first track above shows him without facial hair, and his lines are more evocative than when they became bearded.

Hendricks was the most considerable musician, and went on to have a distinguished musical and academic career after the group broke up in 1962. Ross soldiered on doing a good bit of acting as well as singing. But the magic that the three of them created is a landmark that stands above them all.

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