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Jon Hendricks, George Avakian: RIP

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We can be thankful today that Jon Hendricks and George Avakian made so many important contributions to jazz during their long lives. Both died in New York yesterday. Hendricks was 96. Avakian was 98.

Jon Hendricks, Dave Lambert and Annie Ross formed the vocal group Lambert, Hendricks and Ross for their album Sing A Song Of Basie album in 1958. Expanding the possibilities of a craft that had been pioneered by Eddie Jefferson and King Pleasure, Hendricks married words to jazz tunes and to intricate instrumental solos. Critics sometimes described the results as poetry. Hendricks and Lambert, a jazz vocal-group pioneer, had been collaborators since the early 1950s. Lambert, Hendricks and Ross became immensely popular. The Basie collection was the first of several top-selling and poll-winning albums by the group. Hendricks’ activities and projects in vocal music took many turns. His “Evolution of the Blues” told how black music developed in America. It ran as a stage show in San Francisco for five years. Hendricks continued performing well into the new century, frequently in duo concerts with Ms. Ross.

A sophisticated and talented listener when he was an undergraduate at Yale, George Avakian persuaded Decca Records that thework of aging, free-living Chicago-style musicians should be preserved before it was too late. The result was a multi-disc collection that is often described as the first jazz album. Shortly, he also produced for the Columbia label anthologies of recordings by Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith. Following his Army service in World War Two, Avakian was hired by Columbia and eventually brought to the label Dave Brubeck and Miles Davis. For Columbia, Warner Bros., RCA Victor and other labels, over the years he produced album by artists as diverse as his stable of jazz musicians plus the French singer Edith Piaf and the comic Bob Newhart. Later, as a free lance producer and manager, he boosted the careers of Charles Lloyd and Keith Jarrett. The recordings of Paul Desmond and Sonny Rollins that he produced for RCA Victor captured some of those artists’ finest work.

(A personal note: When I was writing Desmond’s biography, visits to George and his wife, the classical violinist Anahid Ajemian, resulted in invaluable research contributions. We already knew one another, but those encounters deepened a friendship for which I will always be grateful.)

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This story appears courtesy of Rifftides by Doug Ramsey.
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