Dave Lambert - vocals, arranger; Jon Hendricks - vocals, arranger, lyricist; Annie Ross - vocals, arranger; With the Ike Issacs Trio:; Gildo Mahones - piano; Jimmy Wormworth - drums; Ike Isaacs - bass
With their impeccable articulation at breakneck tempos, impossibly tight execution on challenging unison lines, sublime blend and remarkably creative way of slinging intricate verbiage while swinging emphatically, Lambert, Hendricks & Ross was the premier vocal ensemble of the late '50s and early '60s and perhaps of all time. Their pioneering use of vocalese (a method of setting lyrics to familiar jazz instrumentals and iconic jazz solos) influenced several vocal groups that followed in their wake, including the Manhattan Transfer, the New York Voices and Take Six. Their appearance at the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival, backed by the Ike Isaacs Trio, was a greatly-anticipated followup to their triumphant debut at Newport the previous year with the Count Basie Orchestra. And they slayed the crowd at Freebody Park with their good-humored virtuosity.
The three come out of the gate swinging ferociously on an uptempo rendition of the 1938 Count Basie hit, "Jumpin' at the Woodside." Ross solos first, emulating Buck Clayton's high-note plunger trumpet solo. Hendricks follows by fitting hip lyrics into a note-for-note reading of Lester Young's famous tenor sax solo to this signature song. Next up they settle into a soulful groove with a clever vocalese rendition of Horace Silver's "Doodlin'," a fine showcase for Ross' remarkable range and flexibility. They have their way with Duke Ellington's "Happy Anatomy," a lively ditty from Duke's score for the 1959 Otto Preminger film Anatomy of a Murder. They tackle Sonny Rollins' "Airegin" (a tune they had recorded on 1959's The Swingers!) with ferociously swinging intensity. Hendricks turns in a show-stopping extended scat solo on this frantic burner. Lambert follows with an incredibly nimble scat solo of his own before the two vocalese masters go toe-to-toe with some fiery scatting exchanges near the end of the piece. Jimmy Mundy's "Fiesta in Blue" from the Count Basie book is a mellow number that features Ross's seductive vocal delivery upfront with Hendricks and Lambert supporting her with horn-like choruses. Ross also turns in a note-for-note vocalese reading of Buck Clayton's trumpet solo on this earthy number (which appeared on their 1957 debut, Sing a Song of Basie.
Oscar Pettiford's "Swingin' 'Til the Girls Come Home" is a raucous swinger that also appeared on 1959's The Swingers! Lambert solos first, showcasing his superb scatting prowess in the lower register. Next up is Hendricks, who summons up the spirit of Pettiford's exquisitely swinging bass lines in his scat solo before going on to imitate a succession of famous bassists from Percy Heath to Paul Chambers to Ray Brown, culminating in hilarious take on the audacious Charles Mingus. As a tribute to Jimmy Rushing, the three turn in a spectacular "Rusty Dusty Blues" with Hendricks channeling the former Count Basie singer. Hendricks takes center stage on a rendition of his humorous, jivey "Gimme That Wine" before the three swing their way through a blazing rendition of Ellington's "Cotton Tail" with Hendricks doing his perfect note-for-note vocalese rendition of Ben Webster's famous tenor sax solo from the hit 1940 recording. Hendricks takes it up a notch on his scorching vocalese solo on a blazing rendition of "Cloudburst" and they close out their scintillating set with a soulful version of another Basie staple, "Every Day I Have the Blues," with Hendricks emulating the deep blue vocal stylings of Basie singer Joe Williams.
Originally formed in 1957, Lambert, Hendricks & Ross debuted their unique vocalese style late that year on Sing a Song of Basie. They had first met in 1955 to work on a vocalese rendition of Jimmy Giuffre's "Four Brothers," with lyrics penned by Hendricks and note-for-note duplications of the original solos on that song by Woody Herman's sax section soloists Herbie Steward, Zoot Sims, Stan Getz and Serge Chaloff arranged by Lambert. Their next project together was to tackle the Basie songbook, but an initial attempt at recording the material failed. As Hendricks told the Village Voice: "Dave hired his own group, which he called the Dave Lambert Singers - eleven very white people, which means that they were totally removed from swing. They couldn't swing at all. So there we were with nothing. It was awful. They couldn't do it so we sent all of the singers home and were at a loss. No offense, but those people couldn't swing if you hung 'em." After subsequently recruited Annie Ross, a London-born singer who had a hit in 1952 with "Twisted," her vocalese take on a famous Wardell Gray tenor saxophone solo, the three went back into the studio and using multi-tracking did all the parts themselves. The record was an immediate smash and launched the careers of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross.
They followed their successful debut with 1959's The Swingers, recorded with a core rhythm section of pianist Russ Freeman, bassist Ed Jones and drummer Sonny Payne and featuring special guests Zoot Sims on tenor sax, Freddie Green and Jim Hall on piano and on one track Tommy Flanagan on piano and Elvin Jones on drums. Ross left the band for health reasons in 1962 and was replaced by singer Yolande Bavan. Lambert, Hendricks and Bavan would make a triumphant appearance at George Wein's annual clambake, captured on the live RCA album, At Newport '63. (Milkowski)