Saturday, July 25, 2020

Arlene Corwin writes

 Annie Ross

The loss of Annie Ross
Is loss indeed.
I was a teen in ’53.
Mom owned along with Slim Gaillard 
The first jazz club in all Long Island.

There stood a Juke Box.
On the box
Were Hendricks, Lambert, Annie Ross!

There was I, a blossoming young, singing teen,
Young, listening, music major;
There were they, two hims and her,
Scatting kings and scatting queen.

Oh, how I learned!
How much I earned
From Lambert, Hendricks, Annie Ross!
They were my boss!
Not mom, not Slim,
Not Chet or Stan or Mulligan.
No, it was them!

And Annie!
Ultimately forming me
With E above high C.
Her ‘Twisted’, ‘Doodlin’, ‘Airegin’.

Lambert died (too, too, too early)
John became a valued friend.
But Annie, who I never met
Whose influence I’d later get,
Has met her end.
And I regret not meeting her
And telling her how great
She was.
Annie Ross!
I hope it’s not too late to say it
To her listening spirit.
Annie Ross


  1. Annie Ross was a British jazz singer who moved to the US as a child. At 7 she sang "The Bonnie Banks o' Loch Lomond" in "Our Gang Follies of 1938" and played Judy Garland's sister in "Presenting Lily Mars" (1943). At 14 she wrote "Let's Fly", which was recorded by Johnny Mercer. In 1952 Prestige Records owner Bob Weinstock asked her to write lyrics to jazz solos; aq day later she gave him her words to Wardell Gray's 1949 composition, "Twisted." In 1952 it was included on "King Pleasure Sings/Annie Ross Sings," an early example of vocalese. That same year she recorded "Singin' and Swingin'" backed by members of the Modern Jazz Quartet. "Annie Ross Sings a Song with Mulligan!" came out in 1958 with Gerry Mulligan on saxophone and Chet Baker on trumpet. Between 1957 and 1962 she recorded 7 albums with Dave Lambert and Jon Hendricks. Among their repertoir were "Doodlin," a song by Horace Silver, and "Airegin" [Nigeria backwards] by Sonny Rpllins, both with vocalese lyrics by Hendricks. Although her singing career faded after leaving the group, she managed to find various acting jobs on screen and revived her career as a singer after appearing in Robert Altman's "Short Cuts" (1993), based on 9 short stories and a poem by Raymond Carver. In the film she performed material by Elvis Costello, Doc Pomus, and Dr. John.

    Slim Gaillard was another vocalese performer who improvised stream-of-consciousness lyrics interspersed with nonsense syllables (he wrote a dictionary for Vout-o-Reenee, a language he constructed); Jack Kerouac included one of his performances in "On the Road."
    Stan Kenton was captioned "Old man Jazz" in his high school yearbook and started recording in 1937. He formed his 1st orchestra in 1940 and by mid-decade was one of the chief innovators in the jazz field. He continued to record and perform into the 1970s, and the "Kenton Style" continues to permeate big bands at the high school and collegiate level, and the framework he designed in 1959 for his "jazz clinics" is still widely in use.

  2. "... one night we suddenly went mad together again; we went to see Slim Gaillard in a little Frisco nightclub. Slim Gaillard is a tall, thin Negro with big sad eyes who's always saying 'Right-orooni' and 'How 'bout a little bourbon-arooni.' In Frisco great eager crowds of young semi-intellectuals sat at his feet and listened to him on the piano, guitar and bongo drums. When he gets warmed up he takes off his undershirt and really goes. He does and says anything that comes into his head. He'll sing 'Cement Mixer, Put-ti Put-ti' and suddenly slow down the beat and brood over his bongos with fingertips barely tapping the skin as everybody leans forward breathlessly to hear; you think he'll do this for a minute or so, but he goes right on, for as long as an hour, making an imperceptible little noise with the tips of his fingernails, smaller and smaller all the time till you can't hear it any more and sounds of traffic come in the open door. Then he slowly gets up and takes the mike and says, very slowly, 'Great-orooni ... fine-ovauti ... hello-orooni ... bourbon-orooni ... all-orooni ... how are the boys in the front row making out with their girls-orooni ... orooni ... vauti ... oroonirooni ..." He keeps this up for fifteen minutes, his voice getting softer and softer till you can't hear. His great sad eyes scan the audience.

    "Dean [Moriarty; i.e., Neal Cssady] stands in the back, saying, 'God! Yes!' -- and clasping his hands in prayer and sweating. 'Sal, Slim knows time, he knows time.' Slim sits down at the piano and hits two notes, two C's, then two more, then one, then two, and suddenly the big burly bass-player wakes up from a reverie and realizes Slim is playing 'C-Jam Blues' and he slugs in his big forefinger on the string and the big booming beat begins and everybody starts rocking and Slim looks just as sad as ever, and they blow jazz for half an hour, and then Slim goes mad and grabs the bongos and plays tremendous rapid Cubana beats and yells crazy things in Spanish, in Arabic, in Peruvian dialect, in Egyptian, in every language he knows, and he knows innumerable languages. Finally the set is over; each set takes two hours. Slim Gaillard goes and stands against a post, looking sadly over everybody's head as people come to talk to him. A bourbon is slipped into his hand. 'Bourbon-orooni -- thank-you-ovauti ...' Nobody knows where Slim Gaillard is. Dean once had a dream that he was having a baby and his belly was all bloated up blue as he lay on the grass of a California hospital. Under a tree, with a group of colored men, sat Slim Gaillard. Dean turned despairing eyes of a mother to him. Slim said, 'There you go-orooni.' Now Dean approached him, he approached his God; he thought Slim was God; he shuffled and bowed in front of him and asked him to join us. 'Right-orooni,' says Slim; he'll join anybody but won't guarantee to be there with you in spirit. Dean got a table, bought drinks, and sat stiffly in front of Slim. Slim dreamed over his head. Every time Slim said, 'Orooni,' Dean said 'Yes!' I sat there with these two madmen. Nothing happened. To Slim Gaillard the whole world was just one big orooni." -- Jack Kerouac


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