Gene Puerling, the leader and primary arranger for the Hi-Los, died March 25 in the San Francisco Bay area, where he had lived for decades. In his writing for the group, Puerling crafted complex arrangement that took them beyond anything previously heard from vocal quartets in American popular music.
He formed the Hi-Lo’s in 1953. Their source material came from the classic era of great American song writing, their harmonic inspiration from the riches of bebop, the perfection of their musicianship from studying Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Jo Stafford and vocal groups like the Modernaires and Mel Torme’s
Mel-Tones. In the shadow of rock’s burgeoning popularity, the group never hit the tops of the charts despite respectable sales for some of their best efforts, including the remarkable 1958 album The Hi-Lo’s And All That Jazz, a masterpiece that is rapidly disappearing. Many of their other albums are still available on CD. Here’s a paragraph about the Hi-Lo’s from Puerling’s obituary in The Los Angeles Times:
Their rich sound sprang from Puerling arrangements that could make other performers swoon. Jazz pianist and TV host Steve Allen is said to have called the Hi-Lo’s “the best vocal group of all time.” Singer Bing Crosby reportedly said: “These guys are so good they can whisper in harmony.”
To read the Times obituary, go here.
Jon Hendricks, whose Lambert, Hendricks and Ross vocal group drew inspiration from the Hi-Los, is quoted in an article by Jesse Hamlin in today’s San Francisco Chronicle.
“Gene broadened the harmonies, like Bird did with bebop,” said Hendricks, comparing Mr. Puerling to pioneering saxophonist Charlie Parker. “The sound of the Hi-Lo’s was choral, even though there were only four of them. The way the chords were spread out, they sounded like a choir.”
To read all of Hamlin’s piece, go here.
After the Hi-Lo’s disbanded in 1964, Puerling founded The Singers Unlimited, arranged for groups including The Manhattan Transfer, and conducted vocal workshops. The Hi-Lo’s reunited in 1970 for a performance at the Monterey Jazz Festival.