Vocalese pioneer Annie Ross has died

A partial transcript of Episode 19 of THE ART MOVEMENT. Click here to listen to the full radio show.

It’s time to talk about music for a bit as last week, we lost a music genius, Annie Ross, who passed away just a few days shy of her 90th birthday. She was a jazz singer/songwriter and also an actress of both film and theatre.

She was born in London, and came from a family of vaudeville performers. But they all moved to New York when she was about four. As a child, she got her start in show business relatively early and after winning a songwriting competition at age 14, embarked on a lifelong career in music.

Annie Ross is remembered as a pioneer of the vocalese style, which simply put is a style or musical genre of jazz singing in which words are added to a soloist’s improvisation. And she is particularly well remembered for her collaboration with vocalists Dave Lambert and Jon Hendricks, with whom she formed the vocalese group Lambert, Hendricks & Ross.

She contributed several of her own compositions to the groups repertoire and recorded seven albums with them between 1957 and 1962. These include the self-titled album from 1960, also known as The Hottest Group in Jazz, which I recommend to anyone who has not heard it. It’s absolutely mindblowing what these guys could do with their voices and just the chemistry and understanding that they share.

This is of course just scraping the surface of a career that included many accomplishments. She even used to run her own nightclub in London and received many accolades including the NEA Jazz Master Award, which is generally considered the highest honor that the United States bestows upon jazz artists and important figures in jazz.

The song that I will be playing right now to remember Annie Ross is one that she had originally written in 1952 and had set to a tenor saxophone solo of the same name by Wardell Gray that was recorded in 1949. The song is titled “Twisted” and a new, upbeat version was included on the 1960 album I mentioned earlier, with Lambert and Hendricks. Hopefully this will give you an idea of just what a music genius she was and just her amazing interpretive skills.

Download the full radio show here.

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