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Background Information (From the Wikipedia Article)
'Jazz singing' can be defined by the instrumental approach to the voice, where the singer can match the instruments in their stylistic approach to the lyrics, improvised or otherwise, or through scat singing; that is, the use of nonsensical meaningless non-morphemic syllables to imitate the sound of instruments.
The origins of jazz singing to 1950
The ‘roots’ of jazz music were very much vocal, with ‘field hollers’ and ceremonial chants, but whilst the blues maintained a strong vocal tradition, with singers such as Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith heavily influencing the progress of American popular music in general, early jazz bands only featured vocalists periodically, albeit those with a more ‘bluesy’ tone of voice; one of the first ‘Jazz’ recordings, the 1917 Original Dixieland Jass Band recordings featured one Sarah Martin as vocalist.
It was Louis Armstrong who established singing as a distinct art form in jazz, realising that a singer could improvise in the same manner as instrumentalist, and establishing scat singing as a central pillar of the jazz vocal art.
A frequently repeated legend alleges that Louis Armstrong invented scat singing when he dropped the lyric sheet whilst singing on his 1926 recording of "Heebie Jeebies". This story is false and Armstrong himself made no such claim. Jazz musicians Don Redman, Cliff Edwards, and Red Nichols all recorded examples of scat earlier than Armstrong. However, the record Heebie Jeebies and subsequent Armstrong recordings introduced scat singing to a wider audience and did much to popularize the style. Armstrong was an innovative singer who whilst experimenting with all kinds of sound, improvised with his voice as he did on his instrument. In one famous example, Armstrong scatted a passage on I'm A Ding Dong Daddy From Dumas – he sings "I've done forgot the words!" in the middle of recording before taking off in scat.
The entrance of Billie Holiday into the world of jazz singing in the early 1930s was a revelation. She approached the voice from a radical angle, explaining, in her own words,
ˈˈI don't feel like I'm singing, I feel like I'm playing the hornˈˈ.
Compared to other great jazz singers, Holiday had a rather limited vocal range of just over an octave. Where Holiday's genius lay, however, was to compensate for this shortcoming, with impeccable timing, nuanced phrasing, and emotional immediacy, qualities admired by a young Frank Sinatra.
With the end of prohibition in the United States, a more 'danceable' form of jazz music arose, giving birth to the 'Swing Era', and with it big bands such as those led by Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmie Lunceford, Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw and Chick Webb. Many of the great post war jazz singers sang with these bands in the infancy of their careers.
With the end of the 'Swing Era', the great touring Big bands of the past decade were no longer a viable option, and the demise of the typical big band singer was further complicated by the advent of be-bop as a creative force in jazz.
The rise of Be-bop saw a new style of jazz singer, one who could match instrumentalists for sheer technical skill, and this was evident in Ella Fitzgerald’s rise to fame, the art of jazz singing was elevated to even higher rankings, allowing the notion of 'free voice' to exist, giving instrumental qualities to the voice through timbres, registers and tessitura.
1950s and 1960s
The birth of Rock & Roll as a distinct genre, and a new generation of teenagers having different tastes than their previous adult audience caused a significant decline in Jazz’s popularity.
Around the same time, the ‘Long Playing’ Record was invented, ‘freeing’ musicians from the time constraints of the ‘Extended Player’ record. The LP, being more expensive, was aimed at the adult audience who could afford to spend the extra money on records.
Though she was constrained by her material, Ella Fitzgerald's 'Songbook' series introduced a great many people to jazz singing.
Many of the singers that had worked with the great Big bands of the swing era were now solo artists, in the prime of their careers and many had achieved fame internationally.
Sarah Vaughan, Mel Tormé, Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, Billy Eckstine, Joe Williams, Dinah Washington, Tony Bennett, Anita O'Day, Chris Connor, June Christy, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Dakota Staton, and Carmen McRae all greatly advanced vocal jazz at this period.
1970 to future
Vocal Jazz, from 1970 onward, was, and is, led by several big names, including Maxine Sullivan, Sarah Vaughan, Al Jarreau, Carmen McRae, Flora Purim, George Benson, Carol Sloane and Bobby McFerrin, among many others. Some of the biggest influences on the Vocal Jazz style, all of whom approach the jazz voice in different ways, are Flora Purim, George Benson, The Manhattan Transfer, Take 6, The Real Group, New York Voices, Dianne Reeves, Al Jarreau, Bobby McFerrin, Diane Schuur and Helen Merryll. What follows are chronological descriptions of each group / artist’s contribution to the development of Vocal Jazz, and a short record of their achievements.
In Jazz it is especially important for every musician to have an understanding of the theory behind the music, because it is (at least party) improvised music.
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