Jon Hendricks (born September 16, 1921) is an American jazz lyricist and singer. He is considered one of the originators of vocalese, which adds lyrics to existing instrumental songs and replaces many instruments with vocalists (such as the big band arrangements of Duke Ellington and Count Basie). Furthermore, he is considered one of the best practitioners of scat singing, which involves vocal jazz soloing. For his work as a lyricist, jazz critic and historian Leonard Feather called him the "Poet Laureate of Jazz" while Time dubbed him the "James Joyce of Jive." Al Jarreau has called him "pound-for-pound the best jazz singer on the planet—maybe that's ever been".
Watch Jon Hendricks perform "Vocalese" with the Manhattan Transfer, free from YouTube.
Born in 1921 in Newark, Ohio, young Jon and his 14 siblings were moved many times, following their father's assignments as an A.M.E. pastor, before settling permanently in Toledo. As a teenager, Jon's first interest was in the drums, but before long he was singing on the radio regularly with another Toledo native, pianist Art Tatum.
After serving in the Army during World War II, Hendricks went home to attend University of Toledo as a pre-law major, courtesy of the G.I. Bill. Just when he was about to enter the graduate law program, the G.I. benefits ran out, and he realized he would have to chart a different course. Recalling that Charlie Parker had, at a stop in Toledo two years prior, encouraged him to come to New York and look him up, Hendricks moved there and began his singing career.
 Lambert, Hendricks and Ross
In 1957, he teamed with Dave Lambert and Annie Ross to form the legendary vocal trio Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. With Jon as lyricist, the trio perfected the art of vocalese and took it around the world, earning them the designation of the "Number One Vocal Group in the World" for five years in a row from Melody Maker magazine. After six years the trio disbanded for solo careers but not before leaving behind a catalog of legendary recordings, most of which have never gone out of print. Countless singers cite the work of LH&R as an influence, from Van Morrison to Al Jarreau to Bobby McFerrin. Hendricks's composition "Yeh-Yeh" became a 1965 pop hit for British R&B-jazz singer Georgie Fame, who continues to record and perform Lambert, Hendricks & Ross compositions to this day. In 1966 Hendricks recorded "Fire in the City" with the Warlocks, who shortly after changed their name to the Grateful Dead.
In 1978 he created and starred in a play at the Westwood Playhouse in Los Angeles titled "Evolution of the Blues," which was produced by attorneys Burton Marks and Mark Green.
Pursuing a solo career, Hendricks moved his young family to London, England, in 1968, partially so that his five children could receive a better education. While based in London, he toured Europe and Africa, performed frequently on British television, and appeared in the British film Jazz Is Our Religion and the French film Hommage a Cole Porter. His sold-out club dates drew fans such as the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. Five years later the Hendricks family settled in Mill Valley, California, where Hendricks worked as the jazz critic for the San Francisco Chronicle and taught classes at California State University at Sonoma and the University of California at Berkeley. A piece he wrote specifically for the stage about the history of jazz, Evolution of the Blues, ran an unprecedented five years at the Off-Broadway Theatre in San Francisco and another year in Los Angeles. His television documentary, Somewhere to Lay My Weary Head, received Emmy, Iris and Peabody awards.
Hendricks recorded several critically-acclaimed albums on his own, some with his wife Judith and daughters Michele and Aria contributing. He collaborated with old friends The Manhattan Transfer for their seminal 1985 album, Vocalese, which won seven Grammy Awards. He's served on the Kennedy Center Honors committee under Presidents Carter, Reagan, and Clinton.
In 2000, Hendricks returned to his hometown to teach at the University of Toledo, where he was appointed Distinguished Professor of Jazz Studies and received an honorary Doctorate of the Performing Arts. He has taught famous students such as Brandon Wilkins and Paul Okafor. He was recently selected to be the first American jazz artist to lecture at the Sorbonne in Paris. His 15-voice group, the Jon Hendricks Vocalstra at the University of Toledo, performed at the Sorbonne earlier this year. Hendricks has also written lyrics to some classical pieces, including "On the Trail" from Ferde Grofe's Grand Canyon Suite. The Vocalstra premiered a vocalese version of Rimsky-Korsakov's "Scheherazade" with the Toledo Symphony.
In the summer of 2003, Hendricks went on tour with the "Four Brothers", a quartet consisting of Hendricks and three of the best-known male vocalists in jazz: Kurt Elling, Mark Murphy and Kevin Mahogany. Next for Dr. Hendricks is lyricizing and arranging Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2, as well as working on two books, teaching and touring with his Vocalstra. He also makes an appearance in the film with Al Pacino, People I Know as well as White Men Can't Jump .