JAZZ VOCAL TECHNIQUES
Chapter One - What Is A Jazz Singer
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JAZZ VOCAL TECHNIQUES (JAZZMEDIA PRESS 2012) 164 Pages
Is a Jazz musician born or made? You may listen to Sarah or Ella grooving on one of their masterful scat solos and tell yourself, ‘No way could I ever do that’. You may not even be sure what ‘that’ is - you just like the sound or feel of their style of music. Maybe it’s the profound passion and intimate delivery of Billie or Bessie that moves you. You relate to their strong feelings but are not sure how to express them yourself.
Jazz musicians are born and made. Born in the sense that your cultural surroundings, aptitudes, and an attraction to music are
Look at it this way: say a boy, maybe twelve or thirteen, picks up an instrument. He then proceeds to spend the bulk of his teen
They start to rehearse and it’s not long before the guys realize that they are conversing in a musical language of which she is
Today, more and more girls are stepping out of the traditionally female circle of piano, flute or violin; picking up saxophones,
So it is a gender issue to some extent, but one with an easily remedied solution. How? By learning to read music and developing an understanding of basic theory and harmony. This allows you to step onto the bandstand as an equal partner, possessed of a musical training on a par with your colleagues.
JAZZ IN THE UNIVERSITY
The average vocalist enrolling in a university level Jazz Studies program enters woefully unprepared in comparison to his/her
Entering university as a music student without a basic working knowledge of reading and writing music is like going to college
Jazz in the academic world is a relative newcomer. Many Jazz Studies Departments still exist under the umbrella of a classically oriented music school or department. This ancillary status means that the Jazz major is required to study the core Classical curriculum - history, harmony, oral skills, etc., in addition to her Jazz studies. You’ll find yourself sitting next to whiz kids who have been playing their instruments and reading music for most of their lives, and the classes will move at their speed, not yours. It’s in your best interest to be prepared before you plunk down that hefty tuition payment.
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE PIANO
You don’t need to be a great pianist. After all, your practice time is limited and your main interest is singing. You just need to be able to read melody lines in order to learn new tunes, maybe play some basic chords to accompany yourself. If your piano skills are already in place, so much the better. In a short while you could find yourself doing solo work, singing and accompanying yourself in a small club or restaurant. It’s a great way to gain experience in front of an audience while you work out arrangements and develop your own personal style. Think of it as paid practice.
Most serious musicians, whether in Jazz, Classical, or Pop, play piano in addition to their primary instrument. Sarah Vaughan and Aretha Franklin played so well that they often sat down at the piano in the course of a concert to accompany themselves. Composers and arrangers write at the piano, music students use it for their harmony and ear training studies, singers use it to vocalize and learn new material. The piano is the musician’s desk; it’s where we do our work. Having the ability to practice, learn new songs or write your own charts gives you control over your musical growth. You’ll also save a lot of money by not having to hire rehearsal pianists or arrangers.
Row row row your boat Gently down the stream
Now clap on two and four
Row row row your boat Gently down the stream
Don’t feel a difference? Try it at a faster tempo.
Put identical pieces of music in front of a jazz player and a classical player and they will play the notes of the melody with different rhythms. The classical musician will play the rhythms as written, a precise division of the beat, while the Jazz player will alter the quarter and eighth notes in a triplet/rest fashion. This rhythmic alteration is what we call swing feel, also known as jazz eighths. See next example.
Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
'Straight Eighths' - sung as written
This ‘play it as written’ mentality continued into the nineteenth century when there was strong public opinion against ‘flashy’ soloists who veered off on their own flights of fancy. Thank goodness we have the outlet of Jazz with which to express ourselves. A Jazz musician is an instantaneous composer, writing on the spot and expressing the mood of the moment.
When Jazz was in its infancy, the distinct sounds created by horn players was due, in part, to the musicians’ attempts to replicate the phrasing and tones of the human voice, specifically the styles and sounds the early African Americans brought from their native lands. Blues intonations, field hollers, the church-centered testifying and shout choruses, all were incorporated into what we now identify as a jazz sound.
As singers began to appear in the late ‘20s and 30s, they turned the concept of singing around by replicating the sounds of the jazz horns. Thus was born a more ‘instrumental’ style of singing. Even if they never used scat syllables, they enhanced the melody, embellishing it with new notes, throwing others away. The rhythm of the melodic line was also an area of experimentation, delaying the start of a line and catching up later. This is called singing behind the beat, a technique that Billie Holiday developed to such an extent that every singer who follows her is in her debt when they play with the rhythm in their singing.
This melodic and rhythmic rephrasing of the original melody of a vocal song is called text-focused improvisation (2). Nat King Cole was a master of this subtle type of improvisation, as are more contemporary singers like Dianne Reeves and Diana Krall. Their smooth, swinging delivery adds excitement to the most mundane melodies and the creativity in their execution ensures that we never hear them sing the same way twice.
Scat singing, creating a melodic line spontaneously with syllables and sounds, is more closely linked to the instrumental solo. This is called abstract improvisation*, the most challenging of vocal styles. Just as with instrumentalists, when it’s good, it’s magic, but when it’s bad, well, better not to hear it at all!
Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan are the undisputed leaders of this type of improv, forging a style that is the gold standard of scat. Betty Carter, with her driving, hard bop approach, transformed every piece of music that she cast her talents on, stretching standard intonation and opening our ears to new possibilities. Tania Maria melds her sharp, percussive piano playing with an equally percussive scatting style. Among the men, Al Jarreau’s early albums show him to be one of the modern masters of abstract improv, along with Bobby McFerrin with his unique gift of instrumental mimicry. Mark Murphy’s muscular approach is aggressively masculine yet at the same time supremely sensitive.
Remember, Jazz is an aurally transmitted art form. What you see on the page isn’t what comes out of the singer’s mouth and you won’t be able to speak this special language with authority without hearing the accent of the natives. A conscientious and wide-ranging study of established masters is probably the most important element of the young jazz musician’s education. You’ll get the theory, you’ll learn the tunes, and you’ll conquer your stage fright. But first, you need to get the sounds in your ears.
(1) The terms downbeat and upbeat refer to the conductor's arm movement as he describes a 2/4, 3/4 or 4/4 rhythm. The conductor swings
Jazz Vocal Techniques
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