Reading that Georgie Fame was 60 last month sent me back to some of his old albums, and also to the pioneering work of one of his great influences, Jon Hendricks. Many people think of Fame mostly as a 1960s pop star, and accordingly remember him best for hit singles such as Yeh Yeh, Getaway, and the Ballad Of Bonnie And Clyde. Fame, however, got bored with pop at an early stage in his career, and was already moving sideways into jazz when his run of hits started. He had learned Yeh Yeh from a live recording made at a Newport Jazz Festival featuring (Dave) Lambert, Hendricks and (Yolande) Bavan with the Count Basie Orchestra. Hendricks had written the lyrics. Soon enough, Fame was touring with Basie himself, having first recorded with Harry South's big band. Inspired by Hendricks, King Pleasure and Eddie Jefferson, he was also beginning to experiment with 'vocalese'. Fame has several claims on the attention of discerning jazz fans. He over-modestly refers to himself as a 'pub pianist', but is much more serious about his superb Hammond organ playing, which reflects the influences of musicians as diverse as Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff and Booker T Jones. He is also a bandleader whom the best players in the business on either side of the Atlantic are happy to work with, as the credits for his American studio albums and mid-90s live recordings from Ronnie Scott's attest. Guy Barker, Alan Skidmore and Peter King make up the all-star horn section of the latter, while Steve Gadd, Robben Ford, Dr John, Stanley Turrentine and Phil Woods feature on the former, not to mention Hendricks and Van Morrison for whom Fame often works as organist and musical director. In Hong Kong, Fame formed a close bond over several residencies with the house band at the Jazz Club. However it is the quality of his vocalese lyrics and singing that make Fame utterly irreplaceable. The venerable Hendricks remains the poet laureate of jazz, but Fame is his only possible successor. Vocalese, which consists of matching words not just to a tune but to a jazz solo with all its twists, turns, syncopations and often frightening speed, is the most technically demanding form of lyric-writing in popular music. It is difficult enough to do badly, which is why it should, I suppose, be no surprise that Hendricks and Fame are the only men alive who seem to be able to do it well with any consistency. The first tentative stabs at this difficult trick were taken in 1929 when Bee Palmer recorded a vocal interpretation of Bix Beiderbecke's Singin' The Blues, but vocalese did not take wing until 1951, when Clarence Beeks recorded a lyric written to match James Moody's solo on I'm In The Mood For Love under the name King Pleasure. Jefferson, who sang with Moody, also wrote words for the tune and it is a moot point who had the idea first. Either way King Pleasure's hit briefly created a vogue for jazz-solo-based recordings by vocal duo Jackie and Roy, Hendricks, and his partner in Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, Annie Ross, whose witty reflection on psychoanalysis matched a Wardell Gray saxophone solo, Twisted, was later revived by Joni Mitchell for Court and Spark. Hendricks' best lyrics match the literary sophistication of Ira Gershwin or Cole Porter with an earthy, bluesy humour, and are in every case a perfect fit for the solos for which they were tailored. Too many jazz fans, however, are suspicious of vocals of any kind, and are inclined to dismiss vocalese as a novelty. The style fell out of fashion in the 60s, but had a brief revival in 1985 with Manhattan Transfer's Grammy award-winning album, called Vocalese, featuring Hendrick's lyrics. Fame's vocalese has been lower profile, perhaps because he can do so many other things, but the best of it stands shoulder to shoulder with Hendricks'. Starting with adaptations of Chet Baker trumpet solos, Fame has gone on to give a new and literal lyricism to saxophone solos by Louis Jordan and Pete King and piano solos by Kenny Drew, among others. As Fame's producer Ben Sidran puts it: 'Unlike so many people who try the art of writing 'special lyrics' and wind up fitting a few nice sounding vowels into a bebop line before they call it quits, Georgie's further elucidate the sentimental heart of the original composition'. That'salso good definition of what a jazz solo should do for a standard. Lyricists able to work at that level are in short supply. Hendricks will be 82 in September. Sadly, I don't think we can let him or Fame retire.