Vocalese pioneer Jon Hendricks has died.

Jon HendricksJON HENDRICKS, 96, died on Nov. 22 in New York City. A member of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, he was one of the originators of vocalese which put lyrics to well-known jazz instrumentals and turned them into vocal tours de force. A gifted vocal improviser, he took pieces recorded by people like Count Basie and Horace Silver, and using their titles as points of departure, created intricate narratives and tongue-in-cheek philosophical treatises that matched both the melody lines and serpentine contours of the instrumental solos, note-for-note and inflection-for-inflection.

A notable example is his take on Ben Webster’s tenor saxophone solo on Duke Ellington’s original recording of “Cotton Tail.” Jazz critic Leonard Feather called Hendricks the “Poet Laureate of Jazz,” while TIME Magazine dubbed him the “James Joyce of Jive.” He also taught at his alma mater, the University of Toledo.

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