Thursday, November 16, 2006

Home Cookin'

For some reason, I found myself listening to 'BEZ last night. I've been nursing a chest cold I probably caught at the wedding Sunday and was falling in and out of sleep on the couch, thanks to my late night tendencies for web surfing and dog walking.

Anyway, it was about 10:30 and whoever was in the studio played "Come on Home" by Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. In my north side days, I would go to Ten Cat with my chapbooks for a few drinks and some inspiration. As is the case whenever someone sits at the corner of a bar, writing furiously into a notebook and acting borderline antisocial, someone just starting to feel his oats has to come up and ask obvious questions.

"You writing?"

"What you writing for?"

"Think you'll write about me?"

On this particular night, it happened like it was scripted. Except, instead of giving curt answers to indicate that I wanted to be left alone, I engaged in conversation with one of the Ten Cat regulars. I figured, like the protagonist in Neil Gaiman's "Death: The High Cost of Living", I could mingle among the living for one day every hundred years. The man was a pleasant fellow, but his inebriation caused him to lose his train of thought occasionally. Then, as the conversation started to lull between us, "Come on Home" started playing through the sound system. My ears perked and I mentoined that this was a cool sounding song.

"That's Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, the greatest vocal jazz group of all time", my conversation partner said.

What followed was a fifteen minute lesson on LHR and the art of vocalese. Vocalese is a style where jazz singers rewrite horn and reed charts with lyrics to fit a song. Jon Hendricks and Dave Lambert were two of the pioneers of the style. When they teamed with Annie Ross, it was like catching lightning in a bottle. The man then asked, "You like jazz, son?"

I admitted that I didn't know much about the music, at the time, outside of the usual suspects: Miles, Louis, Trane, Monk, and Duke. He said to me, "Go pick up some Lambert, Hendricks & Ross the next time you're in a record store. You'll totally dig 'em."

I shook my head that I would, but had no intention of actually following through. One day, I found myself at Jazz Record Mart, back when they were located on Lincoln Avenue, rummaging through the free bins, when I came across a copy of "Everybody's Boppin'", a LHR retrospective Columbia released in the late '80's with liner notes from Jon Hendricks. I decided that, since it was free, there was no loss if I didn't like the disc. I got home, cleaned it up and fixed as many of the scratches as I could, and put it in my cd player.

I stopped listening to it a week later. From there, my education in jazz appreciation truly began. By the time I submitted my first concert review to Jazz Review, I felt as though I had enough of a background in the music to have an informed opinion. In 1999, my friend Whitley and I went to see Jon Hendricks and Annie Ross perform LHR songs at Symphony Center. Hendricks was a consummate professional, playing to the crowd and still able to bend notes like he was in his physical prime. Ross gave the audience the impression that she was only onstage for the money. She'd strike a pose that was embarrassing for a septugenarian, and the combination of scotch and cigarettes had ruined what was left of her voice.

When I first started working at HotHouse, I would bring my own cds in on Monday nights to play between Yoko Noge's sets. One night, Marguerite stayed in the office late, and heard me playing LHR on the sound system.

"You know, Chuck", she said, "Jon Hendricks and Annie Ross came to HotHouse in January."

Really, I said.

"Yup, I had some old vinyl of theirs and got them to sign it." then we recounted our separate experiences of that fateful evening. At that time, we were still trying to figure each other out. She could be the most charming person in the room one moment, then switch on a dime and alienate the same people she just charmed. I had a lot of anger pent up - a LOT - had finally started seeing a therapist for whom psychotropic drugs weren't the first option for treatment, and was beginning to slowly piece things together. I mentioned to her that I was at that concert the same night Hendricks and Ross visited. It was a a point of commonality, and it was a start. Over the next seven years, whenever I would play some LHR, she would mention the visit by two-thirds of the greatest vocal jazz group ever.

I don't listen to as much jazz as I used to. Part of that is due to my belief that music should give you an emotional reaction first, then a cerebral one. In avant garde jazz, particularly, the opposite holds true. But I can listen to some Lambert, Hendricks & Ross and suddenly my feet are tapping and I'm humming along to the trombone charts Dave Lambert would emulate so well. And it reminds me of the moments where we're at our most human.

Anyhoo, I never wanted to end this on a sappy note. I do recommend buying or downloading some Lambert, Hendrick & Ross. You won't be disappointed.

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