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Eddie Jefferson: The Scientist of Vocalese

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Detroit once had a reputation as the "Killer Kapital," but things have changed—Dave Bing, basketball Hall of Famer is Mayor and is striving to clean up the city. But 32 years ago, actress Brenda Vaccarro and altoist Richie Cole
Richie Cole
Richie Cole
b.1948
sax, alto
witnessed the drive-by shotgun slaying of the architect of Vocalese, Eddie Jefferson
Eddie Jefferson
Eddie Jefferson
1918 - 1979
vocalist
, at Bakers' Lounge. Jefferson was shot and killed May 8, 1979, walking out of the venue, after playing a set with co-leader Cole.

Vocalese was first created by Jefferson's lyrical writings to James Moody
James Moody
James Moody
1925 - 2010
reeds
's "Moody's Mood For Love," taken from "I'm In The Mood For Love," the saxophonist first recording it with the Swedish Symphony. Jefferson's lyrics were redone by singer King Pleasure, who made it a tremendous hit in 1952, extending Jefferson's lyrical popularity around the world with his interpretive rendition of Moody's playing and Jefferson's vocalese stylings.

Jon Hendricks
Jon Hendricks
Jon Hendricks
b.1921
vocalist
was inspired by Jefferson's interpretive lyrical writings to jazz passages with the incarnation of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross in 1957, also including Dave Lambert
Dave Lambert
b.1917
vocalist
and Annie Ross
Annie Ross
Annie Ross
b.1930
vocalist
. Lambert, Hendricks & Ross' first interpretations were on its debut, Sing A Song Of Basie (Verve, 1957), later followed by Horace Silver
Horace Silver
Horace Silver
1928 - 2014
piano
's "Come On Home," on The Hottest New Group in Jazz (Columbia, 1960), the vanguard that catapulted the trio's popularity.

Oscar Brown Jr.
Oscar Brown Jr.
Oscar Brown Jr.
1926 - 2005
vocalist
's vocalese renditions of pianist Bobby Timmons
Bobby Timmons
Bobby Timmons
1935 - 1974
piano
's ""Dis Here" and "Dat Dere" were later followed by interpretations of cornetist Nat Adderley
Nat Adderley
Nat Adderley
1931 - 2000
trumpet
's "Work Song" and Mongo Santamaria
Mongo Santamaria
Mongo Santamaria
1922 - 2003
percussion
's "Afro Blue."

Jefferson created a spontaneous combustion among singers who could write. His lyrics focused on the artist' musical linings, as in his version of Miles Davis
Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
trumpet
' "So What": "Miles Davis left the Stage / Rehearsals were over / So What." Some of his lyrics were humorous, like on "Bennies From Heaven," borrowed from the Broadway hit, "Pennies From Heaven": "Bennie May Be From Heaven / but he sure ain't from me."

Many others followed with their conversions of jazz playing. Carmen McRae
Carmen McRae
Carmen McRae
1920 - 1994
vocalist
wrote to Dave Brubeck
Dave Brubeck
Dave Brubeck
1920 - 2012
piano
's "Take Five," not Al Jarreau
Al Jarreau
Al Jarreau
b.1940
vocalist
, as so many think. But Jarreau did write lyrics to Freddie Hubbard
Freddie Hubbard
Freddie Hubbard
1938 - 2008
trumpet
's "Little Sunflower"; Johnny Guitar Watson and Larry Williams wrote for Joe Zawinul
Joe Zawinul
Joe Zawinul
1932 - 2007
keyboard
's "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy"; Gloria Lynne
Gloria Lynne
Gloria Lynne
b.1931
vocalist
did the same to King Curtis
King Curtis
King Curtis
1934 - 1971
saxophone
"Soul Serenade"; Bill Henderson
Bill Henderson
Bill Henderson
b.1926
vocalist
wrote and sang lyrics to Horace Silver's "Senor Blues" and Benny Golson
Benny Golson
Benny Golson
b.1929
sax, tenor
's "Whisper Not"; Mark Murphy
Mark Murphy
Mark Murphy
b.1932
vocalist
laid vocalese to Oliver Nelson
Oliver Nelson
Oliver Nelson
1932 - 1975
arranger
's "Stolen Moments"; and guitarist George Benson
George Benson
George Benson
b.1943
guitar
became world famous for his recording of Jefferson's lyrics to "Moody's Mood For Love."

The Manhattan Transfer met Jefferson and commissioned him to wonderfully translate Zawinul's Weather Report
Weather Report
Weather Report

band/orchestra
hit, "Birdland," and Charlie Parker's "Joy Spring." Others followed in Jefferson's vocalese footsteps, including Betty Carter
Betty Carter
Betty Carter
1930 - 1998
vocalist
, Kurt Elling
Kurt Elling
Kurt Elling
b.1967
vocalist
, Bob Dorough
Bob Dorough
Bob Dorough
b.1923
piano
, Mel Torme
Mel Torme
Mel Torme
b.1925
vocalist
, Nancy Wilson
Nancy Wilson
Nancy Wilson
b.1937
vocalist
, Dee Dee Bridgewater
Dee Dee Bridgewater
Dee Dee Bridgewater
b.1950
vocalist
, Dianne Reeves
Dianne Reeves
Dianne Reeves
b.1956
vocalist
and Karrin Allyson
Karrin Allyson
Karrin Allyson

vocalist
.

Yes, a shotgun blast ended the life of Eddie Jefferson, the Scientist of Vocalese; but he is the Phoenix, reincarnated forever within the inner sanctums of lyrical jazz: "There I Go, There I Go / James Moody / You can come on in man / and blow now if you want to / I'm through."

Photo Credit

Brian McMillen

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