The vocal vitality that is Jon Hendricks means virtuosity whenever he picks up a microphone. You can rightfully label his artful profile lyrically dynamic, one blessed with a duality of poetry and improvisational style. These days Hendricks vocal jazz torch still bears a fortuitous flame.

Paul Wong
John Hendricks is just happy that after 79 years of life, he still wears the hell out of cool pimp hats.<br><br>Courtesy of The Birds of Paradise

Distancing many singing peers behind him, Hendricks” vocal kinetics shine, rhythmically attuned no matter the uptempo groove. In reflection, he”s a chameleon of grand dimension, known to embrace Be-bop feverishly one minute, scat inventively the next, oftentimes churning out tangents of vocalized movement with class and distinction. All this makes this weekend a highbrow affair for vocal jazz lovers.

At Ann Arbor”s Bird of Paradise jazz club Friday and Saturday, patrons get to absorb his artistry for two shows nightly, at 8 and 10 p.m. Hendricks is the first headliner comprising the new Bird of Paradise Concert Series, presenting major jazz artists annually in a seasonal subscription format. And it”s a rare appearance for Hendricks he doesn”t usually play smaller venues.

His Ann Arbor arrival is just up the freeway from his vocal jazz teaching duties at the University of Toledo. Joining Hendricks” trio will be New York-based pianist Peter Michelich.

Appreciating a vocal palette like Hendricks” is a welcome experience apart from casual crooners and balladeers pervasive in jazz today. No one has yet decided to follow his creative mark, and for good reason. No one can keep up with his pacings.

Likewise, few singers earn plaudits like Hendricks. Carmen McRae once tabbed him “the greatest lyricist in the world.” Cerebral jazz piano maestro Thelonious Monk claimed that Hendricks was “the only one I want to lyricize my music.” A validation test comes easily once you check out his live persona.

Such is his drawing power that next January, National Public Radio will broadcast a live concert “Louis Armstrong: The Revolution of Swing” as a part of its Jazz at Lincoln Center series.

Hendricks will join trumpeters Nicholas Payton, Jon Faddis and Clark Terry in a celebratory salute to Satchmo. Obviously, Hendricks is never short when it comes to keeping applauded musical company.

For Hendricks, 79, it”s been that way since his teenage years in hometown Toledo, Ohio where he chummed around with a local jazz pal, soon his mentor and an icon, piano great Art Tatum. Through the years, Hendricks has lived and worked from the Atlantic to the Pacific and was even an expatriate for a while, living in Europe from 1968 to 1973.

Hendricks has performed with many of the most famous names in jazz, including Charlie Parker, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk.

Such wide-ranging musicality resurfaced on the classic 1990 Denon release, “Freddie Freeloader.” Backed by luminaries Tommy Flanagan, Stanley Turrentine, Wynton Marsalis, Bobby McFerrin, George Benson and Al Jarreau, Hendricks wrote words to lauded tunes by Basie, Monk, Davis and Armstrong.

The ebullient Hendricks is generally hailed as one of the more quick-witted and adroit singers in jazz history. A career break came in 1952 when his “I Want You to Be My Baby” was recorded by Louis Jordan.

His enduring talent was clearly evident with the pioneering vocal trio Lambert, Hendricks & Ross (with Dave Lambert, Annie Ross) in the mid-50s, commonly considered the best vocal jazz group ever recorded.

After the trio broke up in 1964, his solo exploits and vocal ensemble work with wife Judith, and children Michelle and Aria continued to cement his notoriety. He”s perhaps best known for originating vocalese, a technical artistry melding the authoring and singing of specialized lyrics to instrumental jazz classics.

His vocal ensemble credits include Rare Silk, The New York Voices and The Manhattan Transfer. With the latter, he collaborated on the groundbreaking, Grammy Award-winning recording “Vocalese” in 1985.

This time Hendricks revamped a songbook of jazz classics, ranging from “Killer Joe” (Benny Golson), “Airegin” (Sonny Rollins) and “Sing Joy Spring” (Clifford Brown) to Miles Davis” “Move,” with his specialized lyrics embellishing all instrumental verses and history-making solos.

Yet, another career zenith came when he wrote and directed the musical revue “The Evolution of the Blues” for the 1960 Monterey Jazz Festival. It was a special commissioned piece for recognized Monterey festival founder Jimmy Lyons.

In 1996 Hendricks performed a re-interpretation in Monterey with guest vocalists Dianne Reeves and Joe Williams.

Hendricks” vocal pyrotechnics remain epic centerpieces on recordings handed down by saxophonist Gary Bartz, bandleaders Count Basie and Art Blakey and pianist Dave Brubeck, but to name a few. He also appeared on and toured (including a 1996 Hill Auditorium date) for Wynton Marsalis” Pulitzer Prize-winning recording of “Blood On The Fields” (SONY/Columbia).

Recent solo recordings include “Boppin at the Blue Note” and “Live at the Blue Note,” both on Telarc Jazz.

Tickets for tonight and tomorrow”s show are $25 (20 for students) at the door or call

(734) 662-8320

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