Born into a Scottish showbiz family, just as her parents were about to go on stage at one of London’s premier variety Theatres, (the sadly missed Metropolitan), whisked off to the USA at a very young age where her aunt, Ella Logan, was one of the leading Jazz singers of the day and soon finding herself a Hollywood child-actor…this is the stuff of which legends are made…and Annie Ross has never disappointed expectations…
‘I loved it at first’, Annie told me, ‘but when i started to grow up, I began to find Aunt Ella rather stifling, so I left to find out what I could do out there on my own.’
Before long, the young Annie Ross had developed a modern-jazz singing style all her own. By the early 50’s, she was being handled by Louis Armstrong’s manager, the gruff-voiced, intimidating Joe Glaser. She even survived a sudden call from Joe to deputize for an indisposed singer booked to perform at a matinée at the legendary Apollo in Harlem.
‘Yes’, I told him, ‘I’ve got a dress’. ‘Yes, I can get up to the Apollo right now’. Then…I don’t know what made me think of this, but, just as I was leaving, I asked him whom I was replacing…
‘Oh!…Billie’, he replied in an off-hand sort of way.
So it was that a young, Scottish Jazz-singer was hired to replace the legendary Billie Holiday…in Harlem! Billie, complete with a black eye from her current lover, was waiting for her backstage, very supportive; so was the bandleader…Duke Ellington, who helped psych her up in his inimitable way.
‘He kept telling me how I could do it. By the time he was finished with me, he was saying…Actually, we WANT Annie Ross!!’
And…with that encouragement still ringing in her ears, she triumphed, especially when she delivered one of her first hits, Twisted, as only she could.
Nevertheless, it was her teaming up with Dave Lambert and Jon Hendricks and their revolutionary approach of setting lyrics to famous instrumental solos that really made her name…an approach which demanded total musicianship and discipline. Annie possessed all of this and more.
Lambert, Hendricks & Ross soon became as much an established part of the Jazz landscape of the 60s as the Modern Jazz Quartet or Dave Brubeck.
Ultimately, though, the trio finally came to feel that they’d gone as far as they could with that format and split up. Then Dave Lambert died, Annie and Jon became estranged over something or other and it seemed all over.
As with other Jazz performers, over the years there have been problems, but Annie Ross has a very special place in Jazz and her star has never really waned. Nevertheless, when Robert Altman became a friend and decided to use her in such films as SHORT CUTS, much to some people’s surprize, her acting dominated the screen and she gained a whole new generation of fans.
She now lives in a very elegant New York flat; she, just as elegant, seems not to have aged at all. We talked about her life and career and she told me fascinating stories, all with a wonderful sense of comedy timing, (not really surprising when you remember that her big brother, Jimmy Logan, is one of the legends of Scottish comedy).
So…what next? ‘After years apart, Jon Hendricks and I have got back together again. We’re re-creating the old arrangements and adding new ones, though we don’t even want to try to replace Dave Lambert. Instead, we’re having a guitarist play what he used to sing.’
Not only is Annie comfortable with her life, she also has a new love. Her regular tenor-saxophonist, the wonderful Doug White, has a little boy of three years old, Alexander, whom she adores!
When Doug decided to start a new Jazz record-label, JUNIPER, featuring music of a new mainstream for the 2000s, she decided that she must record a CD for his catalogue, all the tracks emanating from a lullabye for Doug’s young son. It’s a new, gentle Annie and the album (JUNIPER CD: JUN105) is simply superb!
So, watch out for Annie Ross any place around the world where the best Jazz is played (she often commutes for shows in London, for instance); in your local cinema, scene-stealing in a Robert Altman film or simply in your local record-shop (or even on the WEB: See below).
Over 30 years after Lambert, Hendricks & Ross took the Jazz world by storm, Annie Ross is alive and well and, more than this, may well be in her prime right now!