With the enormous success of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross' Sing a Song of Basie in 1958, copycat groups were quickly formed to duplicate the swinging vocalese and rake in some of the dough. Though none could compare with the magical vocal harmonies and lyric treatments of Dave Lambert, Jon Hendricks and Annie Ross, two attempts you may not know about are worth hearing. [Pictured: Les Doubles Six in 1962]
The first is an album by Neal Hefti and the Neal Hefti Singers called Pardon My Doo-Wah. Recorded in 1958 for Epic, the date featured mostly Count Basie fare. Hefti surely signed onto this project after hearing Sing a Song of Basie and saying to himself, "Hey, those Lambert, Hendricks & Ross things were great but most of those are my arrangements for the Basie band!" Some of Hefti's efforts on this album are a little sticky-sweet, but the tracks that work succeed in a big way.
The monster band arranged and conducted by Hefti included Ernie Royal, Mel Davis and Joe Wilder (trumpets), Frank Rehak, Sonny Russo and Billy Byers (trombones), Phil Woods [pictured], Jerome Richardson (alto saxes), Seldon Powell and Al Cohn (tenor saxes), Lou Stein (piano), Barry Galbraith (guitar) Milt Hinton and George Duvivier (bass), and Charlie Persip and Sol Gubin (drums).
The tightly arranged vocals were handled by the Neal Hefti Singers, a largely pop ensemble that leaned more toward a jingle sound than hip bop. There was little or no soloing by the vocalists. Instead, the group functioned as an ensemble. The standouts are Two for the Blues, L'il Darlin', Ready Rudy and Splanky. The chart for Two for the Blues, in particular, shows off Hefti's writing brilliance.
The second vocalese album hoping to capitalize on Lambert, Hendricks & Ross' success was The Double Six of Paris by a group of the same name. The LP was recorded in 1959 and released in the U.S. by Capitol Records. The charming vocal arrangements sung in French were based on recordings by Count Basie's "New Testament" band and Quincy Jones' "Birth of a Big Band" orchestra. Jones worked with the group on its follow-up album while he was in Paris in 1960.
Les Doubles Six was founded by singer Mimi Perrin—Annie Ross' hip Parisian counterpart. The group was made up of six jazz singers who overdubbed their parts. Hence the group's name. But Les Double Six didn't come out of thin air. Earlier in the 1950s, Perrin had recorded in Paris with Blossom Dearie and a range of French jazz musicians. In 1954, Perrin and Christiana Legrand (Michel Legrand's sister, pictured) both were members of Les Blue Stars, an early French jazz vocalese group. Les Doubles Six also included Perrin and Legrand, as well as Ward Swingle, an American-born singer who had moved to France. After Les Doubles Six broke up, Swingle and several members of Les Double Six would form The Swingle Singers. The Swingle Singers was a group that specialized in a cappella treatments of Bach. Hey it was the folksy 1960s. You had to be there.
Les Doubles Six recorded four albums released in the States—The Double Six of Paris (Capitol), The Double Six of Paris: Swingin' Singin' (Philips), Dizzy Gillespie and the Double Six of Paris (Philips) and The Double Six of Paris Sing Ray Charles (Philips). The last one was nominated for a Grammy in 1965 in the Best Vocal Group Performance category. The French group lost out to the Beatles' A Hard Day's Night.
While the Neal Hefti Singers and Les Doubles Six were strong vocalese entries, both groups lacked the soul and cleverness of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. What's more, listening to these albums, you come to realize how critical Jon Hendricks' lyrics and each member's solo voice was to making the group special. In essence, the trio was easy to imitate but impossible to copy—or exceed. Nevertheless, these albums are mighty fun to hear if you like group vocalese.
JazzWax tracks: Neal Hefti's Pardon My Doo-Wah is available on CD here. To get a taste, sample Two for the Blues (what a wonderful trombone-trumpet line Hefti wrote!) and L'il Darlin'. What makes this album particularly special are Phil Woods' solos throughout. The two-fer CD also features a terrific Hefti instrumental album from 1954 called Hot 'n' Hearty, also with Woods.
If you like jazz vocals sung in French (I do), you'll dig Les Double Six. The album to get is Les Double Six, which can be downloaded at Amazon here. In addition to the initial Capitol material, you'll find fabulous versions of Early Autumn, Boplicity and Westwood Walk recorded on the group's next LP. Sample Early Autumn and hear for yourself.
JazzWax clip: Here's a taste of Les Double Six singing Quincy Jones' Rat Race in French...