Formed in 1957, the vocal trio of Dave Lambert, Jon Hendricks, and Annie Ross brought something entirely new to jazz: a heightened hipness and swing based on taking big band instrumentals and adding words to them. Until Ms. Ross left the ensemble, roughly five years, in 1962, they were as the title of their first Columbia album proclaimed The Hottest New Group in Jazz.
Dave Lambert died in 1966 at age 49 –the result of a highway accident in which he was trying to help someone—but his two partners, Jon and Annie are very much still on the scene. At 84, Annie continues to sing on Tuesday nights at the Metropolitan Room in New York and just released a new album, To Lady with Love. The Metropolitan Room recently held a tribute to her, in which singers and musicians took to the stage to sing her praises, and her longtime friend and fan Tony Bennett was in the house. Jon continues to write songs and to sing them, often in the company of his daughter Aria—in an updated version of the original group—Jon Hendricks and Co.; he just celebrated his 93rd birthday with his debut at the Cafe Carlyle.
LHR, as their fans call them, were major favorites of Hugh Hefner. They appeared no less than three times on Playboy’s Penthouse:
October 31, 1959 – with Larry Kert and the cast of Broadway’s West Side Story.
February 13, 1960 – with Tony Bennett, Joe Williams, Count Basie and the Basie rhythm section, as well as comedienne Phyllis Diller.
April 16, 1960 – a real all-star show, which also co-starred Tony Bennett as well as The Jonah Jones Quartet, The Four Freshmen, Bob Newhart, harmonica virtuoso Larry Adler, folk singer Pete Seeger, and the team of Dick Haymes and Fran Jeffries.
We’ve been able to find five numbers by Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross on Playboy’s Penthouse, and, based on Annie’s dress, they all appear to be from the February 13, 1960 show, just a short while before the opening of the first Playboy Club in Chicago.
Here are all five (compiled from three different sources) in a YouTube playlist:
- “The Spirit Feel”—As you can see, the clip opens with a great shot of Annie, Hef, and Tony enjoying a drink before Hef introduces the trio. This is a 1957 composition by vibes master Milt Jackson that was quickly taken up by Ray Charles—who called it “Hot Rod”— and then Count Basie. In fact, the Genius and the Count both played it at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958 and 1959 respectively. It’s one of the harder-to-find LHR items; they recorded it on a 1958 United Artists single that, as far as we know, has still never been reissued. Although most of the LHR numbers have lyrics by Jon, this is mostly a scat number, in which Dave and Jon go at it, while Jon does one of his well-known signatures—miming a saxophone as he scats.
- “Twisted”—Annie doesn’t get much to do in the first number, but she makes up for it here, taking over with a solo number. This is her 1952 vocalese classic “Twisted,” based on a composition and solo by tenor great Wardell Gray. This version is unique in that it features a piano solo by the one-and-only Count Basie, and that’s no small thing. Looking at Annie here, the men can’t help but wish that she had been in Playboy – and we do mean the magazine, as well as the TV show and the clubs. In fact, during the recent tribute evening at the Metro, singer Marion Cowings said, “If you wanted to hit on a girl, it was a surefire move to tell her that she looked like Annie Ross.”
- “The King” –Jon takes center stage, but only to introduce everyone, including Basie’s All-American rhythm section with guitarist Freddie Greene, bassist Eddie Jones, and drummer Sonny Payne, as well as Lambert, Ross and vocalist Joe Williams. They sing Jon’s royal homage to Basie, “The King,” which has a complicated lineage: this is Jon’s vocal version of a 1946 instrumental by Basie, which is itself a variation on an earlier, more-famous “Jumpin’ at the Woodside.” LHR performed “The King” with the Basie Orchestra on their 1958 album Sing Along with Basie, while “Woodside” was on their 1957 album Sing a Song of Basie. I told you it was complicated! The trio becomes a quartet here, with Big Joe towering over the other three, and all four singers scat their fool heads off.
- “Doodlin”—This is an LHR classic, but also something of a rarity, having come out on the flip side of “Spirit Feel.” It’s also the first of many times that Jon wrote lyrics to a Horace Silver composition. It’s one of his most ambitious dramatic narratives as well—working as a companion to “Twisted” in that it’s a highly humorous characterization of what is clearly a neurosis. When Dave starts his solo – singing in the voice of a Brooklyn-ese waiter (“Do youse doodle all day?”)—he pretty much steals the show, but not for long when Annie takes her solo, she quickly steals it away from him. Both Sarah Vaughan and Mark Murphy recorded this lyric, among others.
- “Everyday”—It was called “Everyday” on the Sing A Song of Basie album jacket, but most Basie fans would know it as “Everyday I Have the Blues.” The song had a long pre-Basie lineage, but it was Big Joe who brought it into the band when he joined in 1955. It’s the only song that LHR sang on both of their first two albums, Sing a Song of Basie and Sing Along with Basie. They do it here like they did on the Sing Along album, in which the trio sings not so much with Big Joe but around him – it’s especially impressive to see how Jon in particular, answers Joe with incisive commentary that was played on saxophone in the 1955 Basie record. And watch Annie rather beguilingly chirp out the “bleats” that were originally played by the whole trumpet section in the final section. It’s a moving finale to what amounts to a fantastic 23 minute segment.
LHR used it as the leadoff track on:
1.26  Playboy’s Penthouse: Air-dates:
16Apr1960 WBKB-7, Chicago, Sat. 11:30pm-12:30am (Chicago Tribune)
21May1960 WOR-9, NYC, Sat. 11:30pm-12:30am (New York Times)
Clancy Hayes (guitarist)
Lenny Bruce (comedian)
The Jonah Jones Quartet (jazz musicians)
The Four Freshmen (vocal band, quartet)
Bob Newhart (comedian)
Larry Adler (harmonica virtuoso)
Ann Henry (singer-dancer)
Dick Haymes and Fran Jeffries (husband-and-wife entertainers)
Pete Seeger (folk-singer)
Tony Bennett (singer)
Lambert, Hendricks and Ross (vocal jazz trio)