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TRIBUTE: Anita Wardell remembers Annie Ross

” I still feel the same way now as when I first heard Annie Ross 37 years ago,” writes Anita Wardell.  Anita’s tribute begins and ends with excerpts of vocalese that have particularly left their mark…

“I like greens but can’t stand beans and I cannot bear to have those seeds around. And I will tell you furthermore that though they are fit for queens, I only like jelly beans. Now you understand just what my feelings are!”

This extra chorus that Annie sings on Farmer’s Market (starts 1:27) seems to get edited out of most recordings… but appears here on ‘The Hottest New Group In Jazz’ album of Lambert Hendricks & Ross from 1962.

I remember the first time I heard Annie Ross. To say I was blown away would absolutely be an understatement.

While studying at the Adelaide University in 1982 (then called Salisbury College of Advanced Education), I was handed a cassette: Lambert, Hendricks and Ross Sing Ellington. This is where I fell in love with vocalese and these pioneers of this art form. Along with many others, I am sure, I could relate to the unique female voice in the group, the inimitable Annie Ross. Her swing-feel, groove, incredible range and total commitment to the music and the emotional connection set a new benchmark.

Annie Ross

Annie Ross at home, New York City, May 2013. Photo credit ©William Ellis / One LP Project

Annie sang instrumental solos so authentically. At times she was a lead trumpet soaring so high with such great articulation and snappy sassy-ness. If you take a listen to Annie singing the Miles Davis solo on Now’s the Time from the album The Swingers, you will hear a great example of this.

Also in the way she embodies every glide, scoop, phrase, growl, inflection and dynamic when singing her vocalese on the Johnny Hodges’ solo of In a Mellow Tone from the album Ellington album.

You can hear the evidence of her greatness in both the lyrics she wrote and the way she takes on each solo in her unique and fearless way on Farmer’s Market, Jackie and Twisted. I love the wide range of emotions in her lyrics, especially the hipness and the humour!

The added lyrics, all so witty and intelligently crafted, give these vocalese a long lifespan. They have certainly made a lasting impression on me and the way that I approach this genre.

Annie’s way of communicating was infectious and made me want to burst with excitement and joy. I still feel the same way now as when I first heard Annie 37 years ago.

In 2012, I was fortunate enough to not only meet her but support her at the Metropolitan Room in NYC. After my set, I got to watch Annie live and hear her singing one of my all-time favourites,  Cottontail, which was superb. An amazing and super inspiring performance all round.

It made my evening when a great friend and singer of many years, Perez, introduced me to her. I remember she had this big smile and her eyes lit up when I told her that she was a great inspiration to so many. We chatted a while about her love of the music and her time in the UK. She was so kind and generous with her time.

Annie Ross, I’m sure I can speak for so many when I say thank you for being you and for what you have given us: the joy, the music, the words and most of all the love!

The lyrics below, written by Jon Hendricks and sung by Annie on What Am I Here For, again from the wonderful album Lambert, Hendricks and Ross Sing Ellington, encapsulate for me what this wonderful singer gave to me personally. I live by these lyrics and the way she sang them. I’m forever grateful. Thank you.

….I roam along I sing a song and I’m so happy while I’m singing. Music is a most outstanding pleasure to me.

Annie Ross (Annabelle Short). Born Mitcham 25 July 1930; died  New York 21 July 2020

LINK: John Fordham’s Guardian obituary

A NOTE ABOUT WILLIAM ELLIS’s PHOTO

This photograph of Annie Ross is by William Ellis and is included in his One LP Project, portraits with a recording that is of great personal significance to the subject. For the One LP session, William was invited to Annie Ross’ apartment in Manhattan before she left for her residency at the historic Algonquin Hotel. She wanted her One LP album to be Billie Holiday’s Lady In Satin but explained that she lost her copy of the album along the way. William remembers: “I bought the CD Lady In Satin for her as a gift – she was very touched by this. She spoke of ‘her buddy’ Billie Holiday with such warmth and love.  It’s difficult to explain how it feels to be there when a great artist speaks of another with such emotion and gravitas – especially one who was so close to them.”

Annie Ross remembers her friendship with Billie Holiday in THIS INTERVIEW

3 replies »

  1. A lovely tribute Anita—well done. An evening I always remember, was in the early 1970’s at R.Scott’s. The B.Rich band were performing & Annie Ross & Jon Hendricks were in the audience,so Buddy got them up to sing. I particularly recall ‘Jumping at the Woodside’, which nearly took the roof off!! Best wishes, Peter Robinson

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