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Jon Hendricks: Happy Auld Acquaintance

Monday, January 2, 2006

Jon Hendricks brought the hats and the Lionel Hampton Orchestra supplied the horns for the Kennedy Center's annual New Year's Eve jazz bash at the Terrace Theater.

Sporting a white captain's cap and a red double-breasted blazer, Hendricks, the 84-year-old singer and renowned lyricist, looked for all the world as if he were about to host a jazz cruise. A journey of sorts ensued, too, with Hendricks, amiable and seemingly ageless, often looking back on his remarkable career.

Though his intonation was shaky at times, and his husky voice was occasionally drowned out by surging brass and reeds, there was no obscuring Hendricks's great charm and his even greater achievements. He's best cast as a philosophic balladeer these days, a worldly crooner who needs nothing more than a subtle piano accompaniment to draw listeners into "The September of My Years," the evening's most affecting performance. Yet it's still exhilarating when Hendricks pulls out all the stops and recalls the landmark vocalese recordings he made with Dave Lambert and Annie Ross.

A reasonable facsimile of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross's astonishing harmonic convergence was produced Saturday night when Hendricks collaborated with his wife, Judith, and fellow vocalist Joel Hazard. Particularly enjoyable was the trio's pell-mell rendition of "Jumpin' at the Woodside," in which the Hendrickses took turns vocalizing horn parts recorded by saxophonist Lester Young and trumpeter Buck Clayton. Under the direction of saxophonist Cleave Guyton, the Hampton orchestra held up its end of the bargain throughout the concert with plenty of finesse and swing-time propulsion.

-- Mike Joyce

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