Eddie Jefferson is a kind of stream-of-consciousness versifier. He sets lyrics to improvised jazz solos.
No one else had done it when he started adding lyrics to the recorded solos of Lester Young and Herschel Evans in the late '30s. By the '50s the practice had blossomed into a full-grown - and popular - jazz vocal technique, and a host of singers followed in his path.
Jefferson is still the master, which he's demonstrating through Sunday night at Jazz Uptown in the Cafe Burgundy, 5031 Connecticut Ave, NW.
In a voice similar in timbre and range to the tenor saxophone, Jefferson performs a variety of pieces associated with musicians such as Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, John Coltraine and James Moody.
In many cases, the original instrumental solos were well known. However, Jefferson, 58, who started in show business as a dancer, adds a new dimension with lyrics.
"Lyrics will make a song live a little longer," he says. "That's my small contribution to keeping the music alive."
Jefferson always manages to capture the essence of a piece, giving it lyrics that embody the soloist's thoughts. "I talked with Charlie Parker and asked what he was thinking about when he recorded "Parker's Mood," he said.
Jefferson's material is broad enough to include Coleman Hawkins' 1939 version of "Body and Soul" and Mile Davis' "Bitches Brew," recorded more than 30 years lateer.
The vocalist is superbly accompanied by the Marshall Hawkins Trio (bassist Hawkins, pianist Reuben Brown and drummer Bernard Sweetney) and also saxophonists Richie Cole, who perform as an instrumental combination to open each set.