The Vocalese Page

Of the wonderful things that you get out of life there are four
And that may not be many but nobody needs any more
Of the many facts making the list of life
Truth takes the lead
And to relax knowing the gist of life
It's truth you need
And the second is honor and happiness makes number three
When you put them together you know what the last one must be...
Jon Hendricks, "Four"


June 23rd, 2003: Wow, slacked off badly posting to this site. My apologies.

Anyway, lots of interesting news. The Four Brothers are touring Europe next month (for more info see or Kurt Elling has a new album coming out July 22nd, and advanced word is that it has a lot of vocalese on it. Then Jon has a long weekend stand at the Blue Note in New York.

Giacomo Gates wrote me to tell me that Remembering Eddie Jefferson is available -- think that's old news, but it was news to me. I've just ordered a copy; more info when it's here.

And I've heard about a new Spanish vocalese singer, Carmen Nikol, who just recorded her first album, with vocalese in Spanish. I'm looking forward to hearing some of her stuff.

May 31st, 2002: In part of my on-going attempts to get a proper Jon Hendricks web page up and running, I've created a message board for talking about the great one. Please give it a try!

Tickets are now on sale for "The Four Brothers: Celebrating the Jazz Singers" concert. You can get them from the Ticketmaster web page, and at least as of yesterday, they still had some. There is also a lecture at noon that day at the Cassidy Theater: "Six-time Grammy nominee Kurt Elling brings together Jon Hendricks, Mark Murphy and Kevin Mahogany to discuss the history and future of male jazz vocalists prior to their all-star concert at Park West on June 15."

April 16th, 2002: George V. Johnson, Jr. is active this week, with a gig at the Red Bones Jazz Cafe in Kingston, Jamaica April 17th, then back to Harlem's Historic Lenox Lounge for gigs April 19th and 20th.

Kurt Elling's touring schedule indicates that he and Jon Hendricks are playing something called the "Four Brothers" concert June 15th in Chicago. I believe the other two brothers were Mark Murphy and Kevin Mahogany, but don't quote me on that -- I didn't write it down, and Kurt's web page is unavailable at the moment.

Wait, here it is from's cache:

June 15, 2002 (Saturday) - KE Quartet + Mark Murphy + Jon Hendricks + Kevin Mahogany
Four Brothers Show - Park West
Chicago, IL
If anyone has more information on this concert, I'd love to hear about it.

October 25th, 2001: Just got the skinny on an Eddie Jefferson tribute in progress. Sounds really keen, let's hope they can find a record label!

July 11th, 2001: George V. Johnson, Jr.'s new CD LIVE @ JAZZ INN should be out by late August. He's performing live August 13th in Hartford Connecticut as part of the Bushnell Park Concert Series. And he's performing a Tribute to Eddie Jefferson at the East Coast Jazz Festival 2002.

Also of interest is the 1st Annual Harlem Jazz Awards. The Male Singer category includes GVJ and a host of other familiar names!

I've updated the Kurt Elling page with comments on his recent Ann Arbor concert, and added a few new links to the George V. Johnson, Jr. page. And if you're anywhere near New York, don't forgot Jon Hendricks is playing Iridium this week. (See below for more info.)

June 26th, 2001: Jon Hendricks is playing Iridium (48 W. 63rd St. (Broadway / Columbus), New York City, 212-582-2121) from Tuesday July 10th through Sunday July 15th, two sets every night. We hope to have more information on Jon's upcoming schedule posted here soon.

Jon has also formed a vocalese ensemble (the "Vocalstra") at the University of Toledo, with somewhere from seven to sixteen singers, depending on the needs of the material they are working on. They have performed publicly in Toledo several times now; I heard them in the concert I'm still failing to write up properly, and they sounded great. They have dusted off the old Sing a Song of Basie arrangements, and Jon's working on new lyrics for tunes from Miles Ahead. He's also very interested in seeing other vocalese ensembles form, and is intent on getting his book of lyrics out soon to help them. More info as soon as I have it.

It's a sign of how insanely busy I've been that it took me four days to get all that exciting info up here. I've also gotten a demo CD from Ian Hill with vocalese versions of all of Kind of Blue which I've barely had a chance to listen to. My biggest impression so far is how nice the playing is for a demo. More when I've had a better chance to listen to it.

June 2nd, 2001: Whoops, way too long without an update there. Quick news flash now, more later. The new Kurt Elling album, Flirting With Twilight, will be released August 27th. I still haven't heard word on when the new George V. Johnson, Jr. album will be out. And I think I've finally got a line on getting Jon Hendricks concert information up here.

March 29th, 2001: Jon Hendricks is hosting a concert at the Valentine Theater (in Toledo, Ohio) on Tuesday, April 10th, at 7:30. Apparently to promote the concert, he will be a guest on the Mitch Albom Show the day before (Monday, April 9th), which is broadcast from 3pm-6pm on Detroit's WJR (760 AM) as well as the MS-NBC cable TV station. Then at 7pm he'll be performing on the Ed Love Show, WDET (101.9 FM). I think I need to buy an FM antenna.

"Vocalese" is the art setting established instrumental jazz solos to lyrics and singing them. I'm hoping this page can spread the gospel a bit, and become a clearinghouse for information, because I suspect I'm only scratching the surface of this stuff, and the documentation with most of the albums leaves something to be desired. First, a brief bit about the practitioners I am familiar with.

Eddie Jefferson
The guy who started it all.
Lambert, Hendricks & Ross
The first great vocalese group.
Lambert, Hendricks & Bavan
Their second incarnation.
The Manhattan Transfer
The great modern group.
Jon Hendricks
The master lyricist.
Kurt Elling
The new boy on the block.
George V. Johnson, Jr.
An Eddie Jefferson protege who has just released his first album.
Mark Murphy
A contemporary of LHR that's still active, he's written at least a smattering of vocalese lyrics and sung perhaps twice as many. I've gotten three of his albums now, but while they are pretty decent, they just don't excite me.
New York Voices
Lauren Beth Gornall recommended this group to me. I've picked up their self-titled album, and while it has many original lyrics and nice fast jazz harmonies vocals, it isn't clear to me that it is actually vocalese. However, I've now heard their superb acappella version of "Farmer's Market", thanks to Jim Bazin, quite strongly establishing their place here. I still don't know much about them, so check out their semi-official web page.
Speaking of a cappella, a new and noteworthy group is +4bd. Their debut album plusfourdb has very nice versions of "Cottontail" and "In a Mellotone" from the LHR repertoire, plus a great version of "Those Clouds Are Heavy, You Dig?" Plus a few other non-vocalese jazz tunes, Schoolhouse Rock and Sesame Street songs, and a lovely version of XTC's "Rook". (Actually, I've never heard the original of the last, but this version is superb.) If you like vocalese and a cappella, this is highly recommended.
Hip Bop Vocalese
Not a group, Hip Bop Vocalese is a book of the vocalese lyrics of Dr. Nelson E. Harrison. I haven't read it, but it is an interesting web site.
College A Cappella Groups
I've heard that Giacomo Gates and Lorez Alexandria both do (did?) vocalese, and that King Pleasure did more than just "Moody's Mood for Love". Lauren Beth Gornall also recommends The Real Group. I will be investigating...

That's a good start, but there's surely lots more that I don't know about. If you have information on other vocalese music, especially artists I haven't mentioned at all, please let me know!

Okay, here's a few links...

Thanks to Jessica Sendra for her help with some of the Manhattan Transfer credits.

"As jazz history has it, Eddie Jefferson was the first vocalist to memorize an instrumental artist's solo and apply lyrics to it and actually sing it with the proper pitch and inflection." [Michael Cuscuna, linear notes to Lambert, Hendricks & Ross's The Swingers.]

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