Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Misconceptions about Jazz Singing

The art of singing Jazz is much misunderstood. I find many singers decide they want to sing Jazz and start from the outside in. From their image of the Jazz singer. Imagining themselves wearing a lovely gown and leaning against a grand piano in a smokey lounge. Or as gentlemen crooners in a smart tux belting out Sinatra standards for a new generation of hipsters.
These are the popular pictures we hold in our minds of "Jazz Singers" But in fact the truth is much grittier.
A Jazz Singer functions like an instrumentalist, taking years and years to learn their craft. Struggling to accomplish the styles and sounds of others that have gone before them before developing a sound and a way of singing that is all their own. There is the sweating it out in low paying gigs and low rent situations, for it is the rare singer who develops a commercial easy to market approach like Micheal Buble or Diana Krall, both of whom fall under the category of "Jazz" but in truth are both more akin to Easy Listening Pop. (Nothing wrong with that, both are fine artists in their own right).
Another misconception is that by singing whats known as the Great American Songbook of the 30's and 40's (mostly made up of songs introduced in the film musicals and Broadway), we could be automatically be considered Jazz singers.
Singing this material without the deeper understanding and knowledge of Jazz usually lands us somewhere in the vicinity of whats known as a Cabaret or Show singer. Also a wonderful art form, (just ask Barbara Cook, Michael Feinstein and Barbara Streisand), but no closer to actual Jazz than is Rock n Roll.
Jazz is a interpretive and improvisational Art. Not a "style" you can cop by imitation. We might sing along to and wish to emulate Billie Holiday Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra but until we find a way of singing that is ours alone we are simply students of Jazz. Not Jazz singers.

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