National Endowment for the Arts Statement on the Death of NEA Jazz Master Jon Hendricks


Headshot of a man in a suit and pink tie

Photo of Jon Hendricks by Vance Jacobs

It is with great sadness that the National Endowment for the Arts acknowledges the passing of Jon Hendricks, vocalist, lyricist, educator, and 1993 recipient of an NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship, the nation’s highest honor in jazz. We join the jazz community in mourning his death while celebrating his life and many contributions to jazz.

Jon Hendricks helped create the singing style known as "vocalese," or crafting songs and lyrics out of the note sequences of famous jazz instrumental solos, as a member of the great jazz vocal ensemble Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. A gifted lyricist, he added words to classic tunes composed by jazz legends Count Basie, Horace Silver, Miles Davis, and Art Blakey, brilliantly mirroring the instrumental effect with his voice.

In a 2008 interview with the NEA, Hendricks talked about how he relates to his audience: “I think what it's called is ‘establishing an intimacy,’ but I think that's just a phrase to describe how much you respect your audience or not, and I think when you're in show business your audience is everything. Your audience is everything, because if they love you, you're going to work for 40 years, you know? So your respect for them is boundless, and if you show that respect, they return it with love for what you do. So it's a kind of a marriage. I think if you respect and love your audience, they'll adore you.”

For more information on Jon Hendricks, including a bio and the full interview, visit


NEA Public Affairs