Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, Eddie Jefferson, King Pleasure and Babs Gonzales … all were masters of the jazz style known as “vocalese” in which words are set, then sung, to previously recorded improvised solos. (Some of you might recall Twisted by Joni Mitchell, which is a set of lyrics written by Annie Ross, fitted perfectly to a tenor sax solo by Wardell Gray.)

     While vocalese was not common in the early days of jazz, it was not (Wikipedia notwithstanding) “invented” by Eddie Jefferson. Indeed, British singer Marion Harris recorded a vocalese interpretation of the pop song Singin’ the Blues in 1934; using the 1927 version of the song as her model, the first chorus sets words to the recorded solo by Frankie Trumbauer, while the “soloist” for Harris’s second chorus was Bix Beiderbecke. You can hear that recording on YouTube:

     In the summer of 1941, eleven years before Eddie Jefferson recorded a vocalese version of Coleman Hawkins’ Body and Soul, the Delta Rhythm Boys, the great black jazz vocal quartet, found itself in Manhattan’s R.C.A. Studios. Four Soundies soundtracks were recorded that day, filmed to playback the following week. The most unique of the four was Billy Strayhorn’s “Take the A Train.”

     Duke Ellington and his Famous Orchestra (so read the R.C.A. Victor label) had recorded this tune … Ellington’s theme at the time … in February 1941. It was a hit, and the Delta Rhythm Boys constructed a set of lyrics to fit both the muted and open trumpet solos by Ray Nance. The song was released in Mrch, and while it was a hit, I have no idea how many people would have recognized that the lyrics, penned by members of the Delta Rhythm Boys, reflected the trumpet solo from the record.

     There are some interesting names in the group that recorded the soundtrack, so for enquiring minds, here is the personnel of the group led by C.B.S. musician Steve Schultz: Steve Schultz, trumpet and leader; Bobby Effros, t; Cliff Heather, tbn; Artie Manners reeds; Rene De Knight, p; Carl Kress, g; Gene Traxler, sb; O’Neill Spencer, d. (Rene DeKnight was the group’s regular pianist at the time.) The members of the Delta Rhythm Boys are identified for you on screen.