From the Deep Archives: Jon Hendricks live at Sweet Basil in 1980

November 23, 2017

I got to see Jon Hendricks, the jazz legend who died yesterday at age 96, perform live twice right after I moved to New York. The first time, I wrote about seeing him perform at an intimate club in the West Village and speaking to him afterwards.

“The Vocalese, Please”

Jon Hendricks, the quick-lipped hipster whose witty way with words launched Lambert, Hendricks & Ross in the late ‘50s, returned to New York after a long absence for a week’s stand at Sweet Basil. For the first half of his show, Hendricks traced his career from a Toledo childhood in church to his five-year stay in London, where they voted him number-one jazz singer in the world.

He sang his theme song, “Tell Me the Truth,” “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” some blues and a medley of “In Fondest Mem’ries Of” and “September Song”; he introduced his daughter Michele, who sang “I’ll Remember April,” and his “spiritual son,” Bobby McFerrin, who sang “Satin Doll,” both youngsters exhibiting vigorous and individual scat-singing styles. Then Hendricks sang Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Desafinado,” explaining that he was asked to write lyrics to the tune only after Johnny Mercer, Ned Washington and Hugh Martin declined the offer; it took all of 10 minutes, Hendricks said, and the proceeds put his kids through college. “Ah, the vicissitudes of creative life,” he sighed.

Singing solo, Hendricks was no more than pleasant, a polite crooner like, say, Tony Bennett. But when he brought on his wife, Judith, his daughter and McFerrin, standing in for his real son, Eddie, who was sick) to reconstruct LH&R, he unleashed his true genius. Hendricks didn’t invent the idea of setting words to big-band jazz arrangements and recorded instrumental solos – Eddie Jefferson and King Pleasure get the credit for that – but he perfected it. Besides the sheer visceral excitement of four voices straining against and merging into one another, Hendricks’ devilish arrangements of jazz standards like “It’s Sand, man!” and “Jumpin’ at the Woodside” generate awe at (I know this sounds corny) the miracle of music. There are four people up there not just singing notes but making music from scratch, lowly human voices producing a symphony of sounds, wrestling from chaos precision – and having fun, too.

With Hendricks walking all over the melodies, Judith wailing the high trumpet parts, and Michele and Bobby hugging the bop foundations, this foursome proved superior in both craft and jazzmanship to LH&R (groundbreakers at the time who now sound dated) or even Manhattan Transfer (who’ve made excellent records of Hendricks’ vocalese versions of Jimmy Giuffre’s “Four Brothers” and Weather Report’s “Birdland”).

Between sets Hendricks grandly received well-wishers in the hallway between the bathrooms and Sweet Basil’s kitchen. (“You’re getting’ preposterous around the circumference,” he told a tall, snaggle-toothed jazzman, who replied, “And ridiculous, too!”) It looks like his musical, Evolution of the Blues, which ran five years in San Francisco and another year in L.A., won’t make it to New York, but he’s working on another revue called Reminiscin’ in Tempo. When I wondered why he hadn’t made any records since the 1975 Tell Me the Truth on Arista, Hendricks unloaded a diatribe against Clive Davis (“He’s set the cause of jazz back 100 years. He wouldn’t swing if you hung him. I hate that motherfucker – and you can quote me on that!”) Oops. Well, someone ought to get Hendricks, Hendricks & Hendricks on record, anyway – they’re hot.

Soho News, March 26, 1980


Quote of the day: THINK

November 16, 2017

THINK

Think in ways you’ve never thought before.
If the phone rings, think of it as carrying a message
Larger than anything you’ve ever heard,
Vaster than a hundred lines of Yeats.

Think that someone may bring a bear to your door,
Maybe wounded and deranged; or think that a moose
Has risen out of the lake, and he’s carrying on his antlers
A child of your own whom you’ve never seen.

When someone knocks on the door, think that he’s about
To give you something large: tell you you’re forgiven,
Or that it’s not necessary to work all the time, or that it’s
Been decided that if you lie down no one will die.

–Robert Bly, “Things to Think”


Quote of the day: BROTHERS

November 12, 2017

BROTHERS

When his brother and sister, Hunter and Ashley, stood up to give their eulogies [for Beau Biden, who died of brain cancer in 2014 at age 46], I don’t know how they did it, but I’ve never been prouder of them in my life. Hunter, who’s a beautiful writer, said: “My first memory of Beau was when I was 3 years old.” They were in the hospital [following the death of their mother and baby sister in a car accident]. Hunt had a skull fracture, almost every bone in his body was broken. And Beau, just 4, in the next bed, held his hand and kept saying: “Hunt, I love you. Look at me. I love you, I love you, I love you.” At the funeral Hunt said in 42 years that “he has never stopped holding my hand.”

I want readers to know that there are people like Beau in this world.

–Joe Biden, interviewed by Philip Galanes on the occasion of publishing his memoir Promise Me, Dad

                   Joe Biden with his sons Hunter, left, and Beau, in the early 1970s.


Quote of the day: GROWTH

November 6, 2017

GROWTH

Some periods of our growth are so confusing that we don’t even recognize that growth is happening. We may feel hostile or angry or weepy and hysterical, or we may feel depressed. It would never occur to us, unless we stumbled on a book or a person who explained to us, that we were in fact in the process of change, of actually becoming larger, spiritually, than we were before. Whenever we grow, we tend to feel it, as a young seed must feel the weight and inertia of the earth as it seeks to break out of its shell on its way to becoming a plant. Often the feeling is anything but pleasant. But what is most unpleasant is the not knowing what is happening. Those long periods when something inside ourselves seems to be waiting, holding its breath, unsure about what the next step should be, eventually become the periods we wait for, for it is in those periods that we realize that we are being prepared for the next phase of our life and that, in all probability, a new level of the personality is about to be revealed.

–Alice Walker, Living By the Word


Photo diary: weekend in Vermont, October 2017

November 2, 2017

(click photos to enlarge)

The weekend began with a lovely road trip through New England. We stopped for lunch at an unlikely Polish deli outside Springfield, MA: kielbasa, pierogis, sauerkraut.

Our destination: Song Soul Farm on many acres outside Chester, VT, home to Kate and Jeff, college friends of Andy’s, who raise apple and pear trees, chickens, guinea fowl, three cats, and a herd of nine llamas. Llamas are dazzling creatures to be around. The guest cottage we stayed in sits right in the middle of their pasture, so all day long they promenaded back and forth, sometimes grazing on the lawn right outside the house where I sat reading.

Walking in the woods on a crisp autumn day meant encountering beautiful colors and an ancient weathered cabin.

Kate and Jeff are a delightful, smart, eccentric couple with a beautiful rambling farmhouse and a passion for pressing apples into cider, mowing fields, marshalling tractors for apple harvesting, and teaching city slickers how to feed llamas by hand.

 

 


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