Annie Ross On Piano Jazz Vocalist, actress and newly minted NEA Jazz Master Annie Ross is a pioneer of vocalese. In this Piano Jazz session with guest host Jon Weber, Ross performs "One Meatball" and Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life."
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Annie Ross On Piano Jazz

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Annie Ross On Piano Jazz

Annie Ross On Piano Jazz

With Guest Gost Jon Weber

Annie Ross On Piano Jazz

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Annie Ross. Barbara Bordnick/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Barbara Bordnick/Courtesy of the artist

Annie Ross.

Barbara Bordnick/Courtesy of the artist

Set List

"The Very Thought of You" (R. Noble, J. Coe)

"Lush Life" (B. Strayhorn)

"Twisted" (W. Gray, A. Ross)

"One Meatball" (L. Singer, H. Zaret)

"Music Is Forever" (A. Ross, R. Freeman)

"Nobody Else but Me" (O. Hammerstein, J. Kern)

Vocalist Annie Ross was born Annabelle McCauley Allan Short in London on July 25, 1930. Her parents were Scottish vaudevillians Jack Short and May Dalziel Short, and Ross was brought up in Los Angeles by her aunt, singer Ella Logan. She made her debut at age 4 on Paul Whiteman's radio show, where she won a contest that led to a small contract with MGM.

Ross made her initial mark on jazz with her 1952 vocal treatment of saxophonist Wardell Gray's "Twisted." She is one of the earliest practitioners of the singing style known as vocalese, in which the singer sets original lyrics, as opposed to the nonsense syllables of scat singing, to an instrumental jazz solo. "Twisted" has been recorded by Joni Mitchell, Bette Midler, Maria Friedman and many others.

She is best known for her work with the vocal ensemble Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, which formed in 1957 and took Ross around the world. The group won a Grammy for Best Performance by a Vocal Group in 1962, but was permanently disbanded in 1966 after the death of founding member Dave Lambert.

In the mid-'60s, Ross opened her own London nightclub, Annie's Room, which featured performances by Joe Williams, Stuff Smith, Erroll Garner, Anita O'Day, Jon Hendricks and Ross' one-time roommate, singer Blossom Dearie.

Annie Ross has recorded with some of the best-known names in jazz, including members of the Modern Jazz Quartet, Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, Zoot Sims, Hoagy Carmichael and Tommy Flanagan. She is also an accomplished actress in films such as Presenting Lily Mars (1943), Superman III (1983), Throw Momma from the Train (1987), Pump Up the Volume (1990), Short Cuts (1993) and Blue Sky (1994). She has also appeared on stage in Cranks (1955), The Threepenny Opera (1972) with Vanessa Redgrave, Kennedy's Children (1975) and The Pirates of Penzance (1982).

Annie Ross is a recipient of the prestigious NEA Jazz Masters Award for 2010 and was inducted into the ASCAP Jazz Wall of Fame in June 2009.

Still Twisted

On this Piano Jazz with host Jon Weber, Annie Ross is in fine form on a set including tunes by Ray Noble, Billy Strayhorn, Oscar Hammerstein and Jerome Kern.

Ross opens the program with her masterful take on "The Very Thought of You" and follows with the challenging "Lush Life," which she learned from the source: composer Billy Strayhorn.

Next, she proves that she still has the agility to swing on her vocalese classic, "Twisted," and draws on her theatrical background for the comedic blues of "One Meatball."

"I don't know anybody who can deliver 'One Meatball' like you," Weber says. "That is so much fun."

Cooking With Miles

Speaking of meatballs, in addition to her vocal and acting ability, Ross also is an accomplished cook and cookbook author.

"A lot of musicians take their pots and pans on the road -- Benny Carter, Sammy Davis Jr.," Ross says. "Miles [Davis] told me about cumin. He said, 'It gets that earthy taste.' And it does."

Ross and Weber close the program with "Nobody Else but Me," a fitting tune for the inventive, original Annie Ross.

"There's nobody else like you," Weber says.

Originally recorded Aug. 2, 2010.