ANNIE ROSS remembered by an admirer

by Norman Warwick reading Sara Gazarek

Sara Gazarek

The Jazz Times correspondent, Sara Gazarek, surely speaks for many of us when she says that this past year has felt like a tumultuous and far-reaching sea of loss and grief. Political and social unrest aside (and not even taking into account the familial and financial losses we’ve all endured), we’ve said goodbye to more living legends, Sara suggests, than our hearts can handle and we’ve witnessed the closing of doors to more venues than we care to count. And yet here we are, standing on the shore, looking out to a stormy sea and the broken pieces of our ship, and trying to learn from the torrential storm that we have somehow endured.  

Annie Ross

Months after it was announced that we’d lost the great vocalist and actress, Annie Ross,  Sara continues to find herself learning from the ways in which Annie continually managed to rebuild the proverbial ship and persevere in the face of whatever storms threatened to blow her off course or even to completely capsize her.

Sara long revered Annie as a chic and witty vocalist with an octave-leaping, fearless approach to her intuitive musicianship, and reminds readers of Jazz Times that Annie Ross was born to Scottish vaudevillian parents. Her mother reportedly went into labour during the intermission of one of her performances and returned to the stage for the second show—thus instilling the concept of determination into  Annie’s very first breath.

By age three, Annie had already begun her career as a performer, and by 14 had worked extensively in Hollywood as an actress, even gaining attention from Johnny Mercer for her composition of Let’s Fly. Prestige Records owner Bob Weinstock once asked her, when she was only 22,  to write lyrics to Wardell Grey’s iconic solo on the song Twisted. Annie returned the very following day with the smart and ingenious words to what would soon become her most iconic work (and go on to be performed by the likes of Joni Mitchell, Bette Midler, Mark Murphy, and more). Even at such a young age, she had what Sara describes as ´an ability to get out of her own way to deliver the most artful representation of her talents could potentially serve´ in a manner that should inspirational to us all.

Annie would go on to sing, record, tour, and write with the genre-defining, Grammy-winning group Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross. In that role she challenged, and often changed, our understanding of the role of the vocalist by performing, and improvising bebop and even also writing lyrics that extended beyond that repertoire. The group embodied the musicianship, sound, and performance and recording values of some of the most iconic instrumental groups of their time.

´Annie’s willingness to see beyond what was expected of her, and to deliver something greater´, says Sara ´will forever remain as a reminder that individuality and innovation are at the heart of growth and transformation.´

For twelve subsequent years, Annie Ross battled a heroin addiction, engaged in a small handful of ´romantic´ affairs, opened a successful jazz club, published a cookbook, declared bankruptcy, took a few movie roles, began (in 2006) a weekly residency at the Metropolitan Room in Manhattan that lasted eleven years—and told writer James Gavin, “People say, ‘You still smoke?’ I say to them, ‘Honey, I am over 80 years old. I can do whatever the hell I please.’”

In the end, Annie was taken from us just four days before her ninetieth birthday. Although she had been suffering from emphysema and a heart condition, her friend and former manager Jim Coleman says she passed in her sleep.

Truthfully, Sara can’t imagine Annie could have gone any other way.  

´This tenacious, strong, inventive, resilient, adaptable, hard-working creative visionary fought to the end to keep her ship sailing—in the face of countless twisted cloudbursts,´ Sara says.

Sara Gazarek is herself a jazz singer, (a double grammy nominated jazz singer!) based in Los Angeles, who has recorded half a dozen excellent articles. The most recent is Thirsty Ghost  released  in 2019 and acclaimed by Jerome Wilson in All About Jazz as ´the finest music of Sara Gazarek´s career to date.´ You can learn much more about that career at her web site, Sara Gazarek – Los Angeles Based Jazz Vocalist

It was patently obvious that in her writing on Annie Ross, Sara was celebrating a fellow artist and mourning a good friend.

´And I know´, she wrote with certainty, ´that as I continue to look ahead at these foreboding clouds in front of us, that I’m grateful to have the guiding light of Annie Ross as the centrepiece, showing us how to come on home.´

Norman Warwick, editor Sidetracks & Detours

This article was written by Norman Warwick with Jazz Times as a source. Norman has a weekly arts column at Lanzarote Information subscription newsletter and on-line service and is also the owner and editor of the not-for-profit daily blog, Sidetracks & Detours. He is a founder member of Joined Up Jazz Journalists (JUJJ), with his Lanzarote Information colleague Susana Fondon and with writer and radio presenter of the weekly Hot Biscuits jazz programme, Steve Bewick and with author and jazz researcher, Gary Heywood-Everett.

JUJJ was formed to enable us to share our love of jazz and its events and to enable to continue to grow our own knowledge of the genre through like-minded people.

You can read Susana´s works, and those of Norman´s in on-line archives by subscribing to the Lanzarote Information newsletter and you can Steve and Gary on Hot Biscuits at www.fc-radio.co.uk

You can read JUJJ writers in frequent jazz articles on these Sidetracks & Detours pages even as it provides coverage of all art forms from Norman and comments on arts and social culture from Michael Higgins. You will find over 300 in-depth articles in our archives.

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