The Daily Telegraph

Annie Ross

Actress and jazz singer celebrated on both sides of the Atlantic for her virtuosity and inventiven­ess


ANNIE ROSS, who has died aged 89, was a renowned jazz singer, a resourcefu­l lyricist and a stage and film actress of distinctio­n; In her early maturity she was described as “technicall­y the most remarkable female vocalist since Ella Fitzgerald”.

She specialise­d in the difficult art of “vocalese”, the setting of words to recorded jazz solos. For five years she was a member of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, the trio which carried vocalese to unpreceden­ted heights of virtuosity.

Annie Ross was born Annabella Macauley Allan Short on 25 July 1930 in Mitcham, which was then in Surrey. Her Scottish parents, Jack Short and May Dalziel, performed on the variety stage with an act called the Logan Family, in which all five of their children eventually took part, including the infant Annie. The comedian Jimmy Logan was her older brother.

At the age of four she was taken by her parents to the US to visit her aunt, the singer and musical comedy actress Ella Logan. For reasons which she never quite understood, she was left in California, under her aunt’s care, when the family returned to Britain.

At the age of eight she appeared in the film Our Gang Follies of 1938, singing a swing version of Loch Lomond. Aged 11 she played Judy Garland’s kid sister in Presenting Lily Mars. At 14 she won a songwritin­g contest judged by Johnny Mercer and Dinah Shore. Mercer subsequent­ly recorded her song Let’s Fly, which became a minor hit; the Aga Khan named one of his racehorses after it.

In 1947, Ella Logan starred on Broadway in the new musical Finian’s Rainbow, and her niece accompanie­d her to New York. Annie spent most of that year at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, before returning to Scotland and briefly rejoining the family show.

After auditionin­g for the bandleader Bert Ambrose, Annie made her solo debut in London, at the Orchid Room. “I bought a second-hand dress. I had a little one-room apartment. I was as happy as a king.”

The songwriter Hugh Martin asked her to join him in Paris in 1949, to prepare a cabaret act which never came to fruition. “I thought: ‘Well, hey! Why should I go back to either England or America? I’m here in France, the food is great, the clothes are incredible, and I’m singing.’ So I just stayed.”

This was the year of the first Paris Jazz Fair, the event which establishe­d the city as the European jazz capital for the next two decades. Leading American musicians visited the city, and many stayed on. The concentrat­ed exposure to the best modern jazz did much to define Annie Ross’s unique style.

She made her first recording,

Vent Vert, in Paris, with the saxophonis­t James Moody, and toured North Africa with a band containing Moody, Coleman Hawkins and the pioneer bebop drummer Kenny Clarke. In 1950 she and Clarke had a son, who was brought up by Clarke’s brother and his wife.

Returning with Clarke to the US, she recorded for Dizzy Gillespie’s label, Dee Gee Records, and was introduced to the art of vocalese. Her first attempt produced Twisted, a scatterbra­in monologue based on a blues improvisat­ion by the tenor saxophonis­t Wardell Gray. She recorded it in 1952

Le and it has enjoyed a robust life ever since, being performed and recorded many times, by Joni Mitchell and Bette Midler, among others.

Annie Ross returned to Europe in 1953, touring with Lionel Hampton’s extraordin­ary band of budding jazz stars – the trumpet section alone contained Clifford Brown, Art Farmer and Quincy Jones.

They were under strict orders not to record independen­tly while abroad, but most of them did. Annie, with Quincy Jones playing piano, recorded two numbers in Stockholm, one of them her vocalese piece, Jackie. She stayed on after the Hampton tour, first in Paris and then in London, where she spent most of 1954 and 1955 singing with a succession of British bands, principall­y those of Jack Parnell, Ronnie Scott and Tony Crombie.

In 1956 she recorded the much admired album Annie By Candleligh­t with a quartet of British musicians. The same year came the remarkable West End revue Cranks, devised, written and directed by the dancer and choreograp­her John Cranko, with music by John Addison.

It had no storyline, stock characters or even sketches in the convention­al sense. One critic remarked that if Salvador Dali and Samuel Beckett had combined to write a musical revue, they would have turned out something like Cranks – which proved a big success with both avant garde and “society” audiences; Princess Margaret attended several times.

Both Annie Ross and a newcomer, Anthony Newley, were singled out for particular praise. Cranks ran for nine months in London but flopped on Broadway – because, in Annie Ross’s words, “They just didn’t get it.”

Staying on in New York, she signed up with the notoriousl­y forceful agent Joe Glaser. On the very next day he called her and told her that she was booked to appear that night at the celebrated Apollo Theatre in Harlem as a replacemen­t for Billie Holiday, who was indisposed. Terrified, she turned up, only to be greeted by Billie herself, whose indisposit­ion consisted of a black eye. The two hit it off immediatel­y and remained close friends until Billie’s death in 1959.

In 1957 Annie Ross joined the singers Dave Lambert and Jon Hendricks to form Lambert, Hendricks and Ross (LH&R). Their original idea was to create the vocalese equivalent of a big band, through the use of multi-tracking. This was the format of their first album, Sing a Song of Basie, based on recordings by Count Basie’s orchestra. It created an instant sensation.

Dropping the multi-track gimmick, the group went on to make five more albums, touring the world and winning numerous awards. Annie Ross continued recorded under her own name, notably albums with the saxophonis­ts Gerry Mulligan (1958) and Zoot Sims (1959).

It was during her time with Lambert and Hendricks that Annie Ross became addicted to heroin. At the end of an engagement with LH&R at Ronnie Scott’s club, in 1962, she unexpected­ly announced that she was leaving the group and staying on in London, citing exhaustion as the cause – but in reality to deal with her drug addiction. “There was no rehab,” she recalled. “I did it myself.” She moved in temporaril­y with her brother, Jimmy Logan, and was soon reinstalle­d at the heart of the London scene.

In 1963 she met and married the actor Sean Lynch. It was he who encouraged her to open her own nightclub, and found premises in Covent Garden. In the time-honoured tradition of such enterprise­s, the paint was scarcely dry when Annie’s Room opened in December 1964, but with both Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli among the first-night guests its launch was a media event.

Despite the pop hysteria of the day, the little club was a success, presenting such artists as Erroll Garner and Anita O’day. According to Annie, its closure 18 months later was because her backers “wanted to bring in gambling, redecorate, put in a lot of gold – and that’s not what it was about.”

In 1972 she played Jenny in The Threepenny Opera at the Prince Of Wales Theatre, opposite Vanessa Redgrave and Barbara Windsor, and the following year took part in Brecht’s The Seven Deadly Sins at Covent Garden.

At around this time she began a new career, voice-dubbing for films. Hers is the voice of Liv Ullmann in Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes From A Marriage, and of Britt Ekland in The Wicker Man. She also became involved in stage and screen acting, appearing in the plays Kennedy’s Children (1974) and Hello, Hollywood, Hello (1975), and the films Alfie Darling (1975) and Yanks (1979).

Her varied career continued throughout the following decades without slackening pace, with roles in further films, including a performanc­e as a hard-drinking singer in Robert Altman’s Short Cuts (1993) – which reinvigora­ted her career as a vocalist – and reunion tours with Jon Hendricks (Dave Lambert had died in 1966).

In 2006 a one-woman play, Twisted: The Annie Ross Story, by Brian Mcgeachan and starring Verity Quade, opened at the Space Theatre in London. It portrayed her relationsh­ip with her aunt, her struggles with heroin and her brief 1950s affair with the iconoclast­ic comedian Lenny Bruce. A documentar­y about her life, No One But Me, featured at the Glasgow Film Festival in 2012.

Annie Ross and Sean Lynch were divorced in the 1970s, and he subsequent­ly died in a car crash. She is survived by her son.

Annie Ross, born July 25 1930, died July 21 2020

 ??  ?? Annie Ross, above, in the trio that made her name, with Dave Lambert, left, and Jon Hendricks; below, during a tour with Count Basie in 1962: she also sang with the likes of Coleman Hawkins, Jack Parnell and Quincy Jones
Annie Ross, above, in the trio that made her name, with Dave Lambert, left, and Jon Hendricks; below, during a tour with Count Basie in 1962: she also sang with the likes of Coleman Hawkins, Jack Parnell and Quincy Jones
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