Jeanne Lee (January 29, 1939 - October 25, 2000) was a jazz singer. Born in New York, New York, she was one of the foremost exponents of free jazz in the vocal application. Her singing style included moods that were sensual, somber, and sensitive. She sang in styles that included standard lyrics as well as free-form scat singing. Writers have described her style as being influenced by Peruvian singer, Yma Sumac.
Jeanne Lee was born in New York City. Her father S. Alonzo Lee was a concert and church singer whose work influenced her at an early age. She was educated at the Wolver School (a private school), and subsequently at Bard College, where she studied child psychology, literature and dance. During her time at Bard she created choreography for pieces by various classical and jazz composers, ranging from Johann Sebastian Bach to Arnold Schoenberg. In 1961 she graduated from Bard College with a B.A. degree. That year she performed as a duo at the Apollo Theater's Amateur Night contest with pianist Ran Blake, a fellow Bard alumnus, and after winning made her first record, The Newest Sound Around. The album gained considerable popularity in Europe, where Lee and Blake toured in 1963, but went unnoticed in the US. At this point, Lee's major influence was Abbey Lincoln.
During the mid-1960s Lee was exploring sound poetry, happenings, Fluxus-influenced art, and other multidisciplinary approaches to art. She was briefly married to sound poet David Hazelton, and composed music for the sound poetry by poets such as Dick Higgins and Alison Knowles, becoming active in the California art scene of the time. In the late 1960s she returned to the jazz scene and started performing and recording, quickly establishing herself as one of the most distinctively independent and creative artists in the field. Already a few years after her return she had a major role in Carla Bley's magnum opus, Escalator over the Hill (1971), and recorded albums with eminent musicians including Archie Shepp and Marion Brown. In 1967, while in Europe, Lee began a long association with vibraphonist and composer Gunter Hampel, whom she eventually married. They had a son, Ruomi Lee-Hampel, and a daughter, Cavana Lee-Hampel.
Jeanne Lee combines acrobatic vocal maneuvers with a deeply moving sound and quality that allows her to alternate between soaring, upper register flights and piercing, emotive interpretations. She's extremely precise and flexible, and moves from a song or solo's top end to its middle and bottom accompanying an instrument with a stunning ease. Though many critics have cited Lee as creating free jazz's most innovative vocal approach, she's done very little recording, almost none of it as a leader, and even less on American labels. She's best-known for her many sessions with Gunther Hampel. Lee studied dance rather than music at Bard College, but while a student there, she met Ran Blake.
Jeanne Lee was a distinguished singer and educator who chose to devote her artistic energies to the challenging demands of the jazz avant-garde, rather than more mainstream forms. She established herself as one of the handful of genuinely original and creative vocal improvisers in that sphere, and was also a composer and teacher.
Jeanne Lee - Caravan