When Jon Hendricks passed away last November at the age of 96, he left a vast legacy to the world of vocal jazz. He popularized vocalese, raised the bar for scat singers, showed vocalists how to write hip lyrics, and proved (yet again) that the voice could be a force to contend with in a jazz ensemble. This month several singers pick up the baton that Hendricks so deftly handed off to them.

Kurt Elling, who toured with Hendricks, Mark Murphy, and Kevin Mahogany as the Four Brothers in the early 2000s, will host “Kurt Elling and Friends Celebrate Jon Hendricks” at JALC Sept. 7 and 8, joined by some of the best representatives of Hendrick’s work: his daughters Aria and Michelle; Janis Siegel, who sang with Hendricks, Bobby McFerrin, and Dianne Reeves in the mid-1980s; and Hendrick’s long-time friend and collaborator, Sheila Jordan. An auspicious group.

Hendrick’s landmark album with the ground-breaking vocal jazz group Lambert, Hendricks, & Ross, Sing A Song Of Basie (ABC-Paramount), propelled these three artists onto the national stage in 1957; more than 60 years later, Elling takes a turn on the Basie tune, “Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me” on All About That Basie (Concord), eleven classic tunes featuring the Count Basie Orchestra and a legion of legendary artists (trombonist Wycliffe Gordon and pop star Stevie Wonder among them). Elling’s contribution is a romantically slow “Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me”—more Sinatra than Hendricks, but a testament to both the singer’s uncanny facility with just about any tune and the cross-generational appeal of the Basie sound.  

Husky-voiced singer Roseanna Vitro dedicates her new album, Tell Me The Truth (Skyline), to Hendricks, who released an album by this same name in 1975. In the liner notes, Vitro names Hendricks as a primary influence on her craft, writing that the title cut, a terse commentary on truth and falsity in society, “predicted the future.” With this album Vitro reveals the next step in her multi-faceted career: an exploration of her Americana roots. She’ll be presenting the CD at Birdland on Sept. 13-15.

Jazz journalist Leonard Feather, who first coined the term “vocalese” in 1953, is often credited with attributing the title of “the poet laureate of modern jazz” to Hendricks. But in a 1985 article for the Los Angeles Times, Feather writes that it was Dizzie Gillespie who so lionized Hendricks. Singer Lorraine Feather inherited her father’s way with words, and like Hendricks, she knows how to fit them to music. On her new concept album, Math Camp (Relarion-314), Feather the singer explores physics as a metaphor for modern love. This clever, entertaining disk will be out next month.

On her new album, We’re All In The Dance (Turtle Ridge Records) singer Rachel Caswell tackles the universal theme of love through a decade of tracks—both re-arranged pop tunes (Sting’s “Fragile”) and jazz instrumentals set with lyrics (Charlie Parker’s “Dexterity”). On the last track, the Thelonious Monk-Hendricks tune “Reflections (Looking Back),” Caswell stretches out into the languid ballad with heartfelt longing. On this tune, Hendricks again questions the duality of life: “In looking back we just peek through the cracks/between what’s real and false,” he wrote. Caswell will launch the album Sept. 15 at Kitano. (Interesting footnote: Caswell’s sister Sara plays violin on both this release and Vitro’s.)  

Berlin-based, former New Yorker Judy Niemack first worked with pianist/arranger Jim McNeely and the Danish Big Band in the 1990s. Lo these two decades later, Niemack and McNeely have put together a record that documents this wonderful collaboration. On New York Stories (Sunnyside) Niemack shows that she, too, is a smart lyricist; she turns instrumentals by players such as guitarist Pat Metheny, Jeanfrançois Prins, Clifford Brown, and Monk into sing-able gems. The Hendricks tune on this album is “Suddenly,” by Monk; Niemack’s imprimatur on this one are her indomitable bebop scats. The CD release is booked for Sept. 29 at Kitano. (Another interesting footnote: Niemack also includes a version of Sting’s anti-violence anthem “Fragile” on this album.) 

Singers with a bullet: Winner of the 2015 Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition Arianna Neikrug just released her first album, Changes (Concord)—a phenomenal debut. She’ll introduce this stellar effort at Jules Bistro Sept. 13. The uber-talented Allegra Levy will launch her third album, the lunar-themed Looking At The Moon (SteepleChase) at Rockwood Music Hall Sept. 18. (Yet another interesting footnote: Both singers perform the Redd Evans/Dave Mann tune “No Moon At All” on their releases.)

(Reprinted from the September 2018 issue of The New York City Jazz Record)