Annie Ross is one of the early practitioners of a singing style known as vocalese, which involves the setting of original lyrics to an instrumental jazz solo. Her 1952 treatment of saxophonist Wardell Gray‘s “Twisted” is a classic example of vocalese. “Twisted” is perhaps her most famous song and has been recorded by Joni Mitchell, Bette Midler, Maria Friedman, and many others. Her first album, Singin’ and Swingin’ (1952) was recorded in New York with members of the Modern Jazz Quartet. Other albums include Skylark (1956), Sings A Song With Mulligan (1958) with baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker on trumpet, A Gasser! (1959) with Zoot Sims, In Hoagland (1981) with Georgie Fame and Hoagy Carmichael, and Music Is Forever (1995) featuring Tommy Flanagan on piano.
She recorded seven albums with Lambert, Hendricks & Ross between 1957 and 1962. Their first, Sing a Song of Basie (1957), was to have been performed by a group of singers hired by Jon Hendricks and Dave Lambert with Annie brought in only as vocal consultant. When the first two tracks were recorded and deemed unsatisfactory, it was decided that the trio should attempt recording the material and overdub all the additional vocals themselves. The resulting album was a hit and the trio became an international sensation. Over the next five years, Lambert, Hendricks & Ross toured all over the world and recorded such classic albums as Lambert, Hendricks, & Ross! (aka The Hottest New Group In Jazz, 1959), Sing Ellington (1960), High Flying (1962), and The Real Ambassadors (1962), written by Dave Brubeck and featuring Louis Armstrong and Carmen McRae.
Annie left the group in 1962 and in 1964 opened her own nightclub in London. Annie’s Room featured performances by such jazz luminaries as Joe Williams, Stuff Smith, Blossom Dearie, Anita O’Day, Jon Hendricks, and Erroll Garner as well as Ross herself. A compilation of Annie’s performances from Annie’s Room in 1965 was released on CD in 2006.
Ross is also an accomplished actress and has appeared in a number of films. As a child, she sang “Loch Lomond” in Our Gang Follies of 1938 and later played Judy Garland‘s sister in Presenting Lily Mars (1943). Other notable roles include Vera Webster in Superman III (1983), Mrs. Hazeltine in Throw Mama From The Train (1987), Loretta Cresswood in Pump Up the Volume (1990), Lydia in Blue Sky (1994), and most notably as Tess Trainer in Robert Altman‘s Short Cuts (1993). She also provided the speaking voice for Britt Ekland’s part in the cult classic The Wicker Man (1973). On stage, Ross appeared in Cranks (1955) in both London and New York, The Threepenny Opera (1972) with Vanessa Redgrave, The Seven Deadly Sins at The Royal Opera House, Kennedy’s Children (1975) at Arts Theatre, London, Side By Side By Sondheim, and in the Joe Papp production of The Pirates Of Penzance (1982) with Tim Curry.
Annie Ross performs regularly on Tuesday nights at The Metropolitan Room (34 W. 22nd St.) in New York City with Tardo Hammer on piano, Neal Miner on bass, Tony Jefferson on drums, and Warren Vache on trumpet.
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