Jeanne Lee (January 29, 1939 – October 25, 2000) was an American jazz singer, poet and composer. Best known for a wide range of vocal styles she mastered, Lee collaborated with numerous distinguished composers and performers which included Gunter Hampel, Ran Blake, Carla Bley, Anthony Braxton, Marion Brown, and many others.
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 literature, psychology 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, and later that year made her first record, The Newest Sound Around, with pianist Ran Blake, a fellow Bard alumnus. 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 that included Archie Shepp and Marion Brown. In 1967, while in Europe, she began a long association with vibraphonist and composer Gunter Hampel, whom Lee eventually married. They had a son, Ruomi Lee-Hampel, and a daughter, Cavana Lee-Hampel.
In 1976 she represented the African American spiritual musical tradition in John Cage's Apartment House 1776, which was composed for the U.S. Bicentennial. The experience inspired Lee to devote more attention to her composing, and create extended works.
The immediate result was Prayer for Our Time, a jazz oratorio. Lee continued to perform and make recordings until her death in 2000, recording for labels such as Birth, BYG Actuel, JCOA, ECM, Black Saint/Soul Note, OWL and Horo. She sang on a large number of albums by Gunter Hampel. In her late years, Lee ran the Jeanne Lee Ensemble, which performed a fusion of poetry, music and dance, and collaborated and toured with pianist Mal Waldron. Lee was also active as educator. She received a MA in Education from the New York University in 1972 and taught at various institutions both in the US and in Europe. She published a number of short features on music for Amsterdam News and various educational writings, including a textbook on the history of jazz music for grades four through seven.
Lee died from cancer in 2000 in Tijuana, Mexico. She was survived by her husband and children.
Jeanne Lee (Nueva York, 29 de enero de 1939 - Tijuana, 25 de octubre de 2000), cantante y compositora estadounidense de jazz. Lee es una de las mejores representantes del free jazz y de la vanguardia jazzística en general aplicada al canto.
La voz de Jeanne Lee, grave y profunda, juega con las intensidades del volumen y con el scat para dotar a las canciones de emotividad interpretativa. Ha grabado casi siempre con compañías no estadounidenses. Es conocida sobre todo por sus sesiones con el vanguardista Gunther Hampel.
Lee estudió baile antes que música en el Bard College, y allí conoció al pianista Ran Blake. Formaron un dúo e hizo su primera grabación, muy elogiada por muchos críticos. Hicieron una gira por Europa en 1963.
Lee, al regresar, se trasladó a California y trabajó con Ian Underwood y con el poeta sonoro David Hazelton, con quien se casaría más tarde. Estableció su relación musical con Gunther Hampel durante su estancia en Europa en 1967, grabando juntos más de 20 discos. Grabó también con Archie Shepp y Sunny Murray en la década de 1960, con Marion Brown, Anthony Braxton, Enrico Rava y Andrew Cyrille en la década de 1970, y con Lauren Newton, Jay Clayton, Urszula Dudziak, A. R. Penck, Peter Kowald y Marilyn Crispell en la década de 1980. En la década de 1990 grabó también con Mal Waldron.
Comenzó a componer en la década de 1980 y a partir de ahí se concentró en interpretar su material original, que frecuentemente incluía componentes poéticos y de baile. La mayor parte de sus grabaciones se hicieron con sellos europeos o independientes. Tras vivir en Nueva York a mediados de la década de 1990, Lee enseñó en dos conservatorios europeos durante años. En el 2000 se enfrentó a un cáncer de colon que acabó con su vida en pocos meses.