Jon Hendricks is not only one of the world's favorite jazz vocalists, but is widely considered to be the "Father of Vocalese", the greatest innovator of the art form. Vocalese is the art of setting lyrics to recorded jazz instrumental standards (such as the big band arrangements of Duke Ellington and Count Basie), then arranging voices to sing the parts of the instruments. Thus is created an entirely new form of the work, one that tells a lyrically interesting story while retaining the integrity of the music. Hendricks is the only person many jazz greats have allowed to lyricize their music, for no one writes hipper, wittier, or more touching words, while extracting from a tune the emotions intended by the composer, more sympathetically than Hendricks. For his work as a lyricist, jazz critic and historian Leonard Feather called him the "Poet Laureate of Jazz" while Time dubbed him the "James Joyce of Jive."
Born in 1921 in Newark, Ohio, young Jon and his fourteen siblings were moved many times, following their father's assignments as an A.M.E. pastor, before settling permanently in Toledo. As a teen Jon's first interest was in the drums, but before long he was singing on the radio regularly with another Toledo native, the extraordinary pianist Art Tatum.
After serving in the Army during WWII, Jon went home to attend University of Toledo as a Pre-law major, courtesy of the G.I. Bill. Just when he was about to enter the graduate law program, the G.I. benefits ran out, and he realized he'd have to chart a different course. Recalling that Charlie Parker had, at a stop in Toledo two years prior, encouraged him to come to New York and look him up, Hendricks moved there and began his singing career.
In 1957 he teamed with Dave Lambert and Annie Ross to form the legendary vocal trio Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross. With Jon as lyricist, the trio perfected the art of vocalese and took it around the world, earning them the designation of the "Number One Vocal Group in the World" for five years in a row from Melody Maker magazine. After six years the trio disbanded for solo careers, but not before leaving behind a catalog of legendary recordings, most of which have never gone out of print. Countless singers cite the work of LH&R as an influence, from the Manhattan Transfer to Al Jarreau to Bobby McFerrin.