Posted on November 26, 2017 at 5:12 am
I think it starts with Barry Manilow, who included “Cloudburst” and “Avenue C”, both with Jon Hendricks’s lyrics, in the “Jump Shout Boogie Medley” on his 1977 “Live” album, which I listened to religiously as a child.
I think the next thing was that my Dad had Lambert, Hendricks & Bavan Recorded Live at Basin Street East in his record collection and I found it one day in high school and started playing it constantly, obsessed with how the lyrics rode on these insanely twisty bebop solos, and loving the vocal harmonies.
Three of my friends and I learned the Manhattan Transfer arrangement of “Birdland.” If Hendricks hadn’t set words to so many jazz classics, I wouldn’t have known them, and they wouldn’t have led me to the originals, and the originals wouldn’t have led me even deeper to so much of the music that fulfills me.
In college I finally found a copy of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross! The Hottest New Group in Jazz! on LP, and I heard more joy in every minute of that album than in every other record I owned. I bet that’s still true.
It was 1991 maybe, I had moved to New York City, and Jon Hendricks was playing Sweet Basil in the Village. My Dad and I got tickets, but alas, Hendricks was sick that night and Annie Ross jumped in at the last minute to take over, which was okay I guess, but I had actually already SEEN Annie Ross live and the whole point was that I hadn’t seen Hendricks and ugh whatever. I think I did actually see Jon perform some years later, but strangely I can’t remember that but I do remember the Sweet Basil gig when he didn’t show up. Memories are weird.
Ten years later. I looked in the Local 802 directory for Jon Hendricks because I had written the incidental music for a play and his was the voice I had heard in my head while I was writing it. I had budgeted a thousand dollars to pay him for the session – it was basically my entire fee for the project and it was an insultingly low number to offer “the James Joyce of jive,” but it was really all I could afford to do. The number in the directory connected me to Jon’s former manager, who told me to call Mr. Hendricks directly in Ohio – he was teaching in Toledo. So I called that number, and Jon Hendricks answered the phone in a gravelly, just-woken-up voice. He was eighty years old. I believe I spoke as quickly as I have ever spoken in my life, and I told him I wanted him to come do a session for me in New York City. “Yeah, okay, that’s cool!” he said, and I sort of stared at the phone for a minute, because it meant that Jon Hendricks, the person who taught me how to love jazz, was going to sing my music.
Jon Hendricks did a scat solo over changes I wrote. Put that in my fucking obituary.
I brought a copy of one of Jon’s rarest albums to the session – a 1973 Arista LP called Tell Me The Truth, produced by Ben Sidran – and I asked Jon if he would sign it. He wrote:
“To Jason – A short jazz poem: LISTEN!”
I’ve had a lot of cool things happen in my career, but this is the only time I can think of that one of my childhood idols sang one of my songs. And it was everything I could have wanted.
In this recording, you’ll hear about three minutes of the incidental music, and then “Grow Old With Me,” the song I wrote for the curtain calls. (Those of you who know the song from my Wearing Someone Else’s Clothes CD will note some different lyrics – the ones Hendricks sings are an earlier draft.) Thanks to David Lindsay-Abaire and David Petrarca for letting me do it, and for inspiring me with such a great play.
Suite from “Kimberly Akmibo”/Grow Old With Me (2001)
Music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown
Vocals: Jon Hendricks
Piano & organ: Jason Robert Brown
Trombone: J. Walter Hawkes
Guitars: Kevin Kuhn
Bass: Kermit Driscoll
Drums & percussion: Tom Partington
Recorded March 25, 2001 at Warehouse Studios, NY NY
Vocals and trombone recorded March 28, 2001 at Clinton Recording Studios, NY NY