What is Vocal jazz music? Harmonious Rhythms 2023

What is Vocal jazz music? Vocal jazz music is a captivating genre that showcases the artistry of skilled vocalists and their ability to interpret melodies with improvisation, rich harmonies, and rhythmic sophistication. On this page thorough examination of vocal jazz music will be explore.

Vocal jazz music is a genre of jazz music that uses the voice as the primary instrument. It emerged in the early 20th century, with its roots in blues, gospel, and ragtime. Vocal jazz singers often use improvisation, scat singing, and other techniques to create a unique and expressive sound.

Some of the most famous vocal jazz singers include Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan, and Nina Simone. These singers have all had a profound impact on the development of vocal jazz music, and their recordings are still enjoyed by listeners today.

Vocal jazz music is characterized by its use of improvisation, its focus on the lyrics, and its use of a variety of vocal techniques. Improvisation is a key element of jazz music, and vocal jazz singers often improvise their solos, adding their own personal touch to the music. The lyrics in vocal jazz songs are often very important, and the singer’s interpretation of the lyrics can be important as the melody.

Definition of Vocal Jazz Music

What is Vocal jazz music?

Vocal jazz music is a genre that combines elements of jazz and singing. It typically involves a vocalist or a group of vocalists who interpret jazz standards, original compositions, or popular songs with a jazz influence.

The genre emerged in the early 20th century and has evolved over the years, incorporating various stylistic elements and improvisational techniques from jazz.

Key characteristics of vocal jazz music include:

  1. Improvisation: Vocal jazz performers often engage in improvisation, where they create new melodies, rhythms, and variations on the spot, adding their unique touch to the music.
  2. Swing feel: The music often features a swinging rhythm, characterized by a syncopated and laid-back groove that encourages dancing or foot-tapping.
  3. Scat singing: Vocalists in jazz frequently employ scat singing, a technique where they sing improvised syllables and nonsensical sounds, mimicking the sounds and rhythms of musical instruments.
  4. Use of extended harmonies: Vocal jazz often incorporates complex and extended chord progressions, adding richness and sophistication to the music.
  5. Interplay with instrumentalists: Vocalists in jazz frequently interact and collaborate with instrumentalists, engaging in call-and-response patterns and exchanging musical ideas during performances.
  6. Emotional expression: Vocal jazz music often emphasizes emotional expression and storytelling through the lyrics and vocal delivery, conveying a wide range of feelings and moods.
  7. Repertoire: Vocal jazz musicians draw from a vast repertoire of jazz standards, American songbook classics, and contemporary compositions, adapting them to their unique vocal style.

Popular vocal jazz artists throughout history include Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Nat King Cole, and more recently, Norah Jones and Diana Krall, among many others.

Characteristics of Vocal Jazz Singing

Vocal jazz singing is a distinct style within the broader jazz genre, characterized by unique vocal techniques, improvisation, and a strong connection to jazz harmony and rhythm. Here are some key characteristics of vocal jazz singing:

  1. Swing and Rhythm: Vocal jazz singers embrace the swinging rhythm of jazz, often singing with a relaxed, syncopated feel that gives the music a sense of groove and momentum.
  2. Scat Singing: Scat singing is a hallmark of vocal jazz, where singers use their voices to improvise melodic lines and rhythmic patterns, often mimicking the sounds of instruments. Scatting allows singers to showcase their creativity and virtuosity.
  3. Improvisation: Like instrumental jazz musicians, vocal jazz singers engage in improvisation, creating new melodies and variations on existing tunes. This skill requires a deep understanding of harmony, melody, and rhythm.
  4. Extended Techniques: Vocal jazz singers may use various extended techniques to enhance their performances, such as vocal growls, glissandos, vocal fry, and other vocal effects that add texture and expressiveness to their singing.
  5. Harmony and Chord Substitutions: Vocal jazz singers are well-versed in jazz harmony and often experiment with chord substitutions and alterations, providing a fresh interpretation of familiar tunes.
  6. Phrasing and Articulation: Jazz singers have a unique approach to phrasing, using rhythmic flexibility and syncopation to add a sense of individuality to their performances. Articulation is also essential in jazz singing, with singers carefully shaping each note and syllable for maximum expressiveness.
  7. Interpretation and Storytelling: Vocal jazz singers are storytellers, and they bring emotional depth and nuance to the lyrics they sing. They use vocal inflections and dynamics to convey the meaning and feeling behind the words.
  8. Call and Response: In live performances, vocal jazz singers often engage in call-and-response with instrumentalists or even with the audience, creating a dynamic and interactive experience.
  9. Vocal Group Harmony: In vocal jazz groups, harmonizing is a crucial aspect. Singers blend their voices together to create rich and complex harmonies, often experimenting with tight chord voicings.
  10. Versatility: Vocal jazz singers are versatile and can adapt to various jazz styles, from traditional to bebop, cool jazz, fusion, and more. They may also explore other genres and incorporate elements from blues, soul, and Latin music into their performances.

Historical Origins of Vocal Jazz

The origins of vocal jazz can be traced back to the early 20th century, with its roots intertwined with the development of jazz music as a whole. Several key historical factors contributed to the emergence of vocal jazz:

  1. African-American Musical Traditions: Vocal jazz owes much of its foundation to African-American musical traditions, including spirituals, work songs, and the blues. These genres were characterized by emotive singing, improvisation, and a strong sense of rhythm, which laid the groundwork for the expressive and rhythmic elements in jazz singing.
  2. New Orleans and Early Jazz: New Orleans, particularly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, was a melting pot of musical influences, including African, Caribbean, and European styles. The birthplace of jazz, New Orleans, played a significant role in the development of vocal jazz as well. Early jazz musicians often sang while playing their instruments, and vocalists incorporated the spirit of improvisation and syncopation that defined jazz instrumental performances.
  3. Vaudeville and Minstrel Shows: Vaudeville and minstrel shows were popular entertainment forms in the early 20th century, and they featured a mix of music, comedy, and variety acts. African-American performers, such as Bert Williams and George Walker, made significant contributions to these shows, showcasing their unique vocal styles, humor, and musical talent.
  4. Rise of Jazz Standards: In the 1920s and 1930s, jazz standards started to gain popularity. These were popular songs of the day that were reinterpreted and adapted by jazz musicians, including vocalists. Singers like Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, and Ethel Waters became prominent figures during this time, influencing the direction of vocal jazz.
  5. The Jazz Age and Swing Era: The 1920s and 1930s were marked by the Jazz Age and the subsequent Swing Era. Big bands and dance orchestras were prevalent, and vocalists like Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, and Ella Fitzgerald began to emerge, making significant contributions to vocal jazz.
  6. Influence of Bebop and Modern Jazz: In the 1940s and 1950s, bebop and modern jazz styles emerged, with vocalists like Sarah Vaughan and Carmen McRae adapting their singing to the intricate harmonies and fast-paced rhythms of these genres.
  7. Cool Jazz and West Coast Jazz: In the 1950s and 1960s, the cool jazz movement and the West Coast jazz scene provided a more relaxed and laid-back approach to jazz, with vocalists like Chet Baker and Anita O’Day becoming prominent figures.

Throughout the 20th century and beyond, vocal jazz continued to evolve, incorporating influences from various genres, including rhythm and blues, soul, Latin, and fusion. Today, vocal jazz remains a dynamic and expressive art form, with contemporary singers contributing to its ongoing development and popularity.

Influential Vocal Jazz Artists

What is Vocal jazz music?

Vocal jazz has been enriched by numerous influential artists who have made significant contributions to the genre. While this list is by no means exhaustive, here are some of the most influential vocal jazz artists, spanning different eras:

  1. Ella Fitzgerald: Often referred to as the “First Lady of Song,” Ella Fitzgerald is one of the most celebrated vocal jazz artists of all time. Her impeccable technique, incredible range, and mastery of scat singing made her a true jazz legend. She was known for her recordings of jazz standards and collaborations with jazz greats like Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong.
  2. Billie Holiday: Known for her unique phrasing, emotive delivery, and distinctive voice, Billie Holiday is considered one of the greatest jazz singers in history. Her interpretations of jazz and blues classics, such as “Strange Fruit” and “God Bless the Child,” continue to inspire singers to this day.
  3. Nat King Cole: A gifted pianist and vocalist, Nat King Cole brought a smooth and sophisticated style to vocal jazz. His warm, velvety voice made him a popular figure in both jazz and popular music circles, and he produced several timeless hits, including “Unforgettable” and “Mona Lisa.”
  4. Sarah Vaughan: Revered for her incredible vocal range and control, Sarah Vaughan, also known as “Sassy” and “The Divine One,” was a versatile vocalist who excelled in both jazz and pop genres. Her virtuosic scatting and rich tone made her an iconic figure in vocal jazz history.
  5. Louis Armstrong: Although primarily known as a trumpet player, Louis Armstrong’s gravelly voice and distinctive singing style also played a significant role in the development of vocal jazz. His recordings, such as “What a Wonderful World” and “Hello, Dolly!,” remain timeless classics.
  6. Carmen McRae: Carmen McRae was a highly respected jazz vocalist known for her expressive interpretations and unique phrasing. Her ability to bring new life to jazz standards and her exceptional ballad performances earned her a devoted following.
  7. Mel Tormé: Often referred to as “The Velvet Fog,” Mel Tormé possessed a smooth and silky voice that made him a standout in the vocal jazz world. His mastery of scat singing and his contributions to the Great American Songbook solidified his place in jazz history.
  8. Anita O’Day: Renowned for her swinging, energetic style, Anita O’Day was a dynamic performer known for her improvisational skills and precise articulation. She was a prominent figure during the big band and bebop eras.
  9. Diana Krall: A contemporary jazz artist, Diana Krall’s sultry contralto voice and pianistic abilities have captivated audiences worldwide. Her recordings of jazz standards and original compositions have earned her critical acclaim and numerous awards.
  10. Kurt Elling: Kurt Elling is a modern jazz vocalist known for his adventurous approach to scatting and his ability to incorporate elements of spoken word and vocalese into his performances. He has received widespread recognition for his creativity and vocal prowess.

These influential artists, along with many others, have shaped the evolution of vocal jazz, leaving behind a lasting legacy that continues to inspire and influence singers across generations.

Vocal Jazz Techniques and Improvisation

Vocal jazz techniques and improvisation are at the core of what makes this genre unique and exciting. Here are some key vocal jazz techniques and insights into how improvisation plays a crucial role in jazz singing:

Vocal Jazz Techniques:

  1. Scat Singing: Scat singing is a hallmark of vocal jazz, where the singer improvises using nonsensical syllables, mimicking the sounds of musical instruments. To excel at scat singing, vocalists need to have a good sense of rhythm, pitch, and be able to create inventive melodic lines.
  2. Vocalese: Vocalese is a technique in which lyrics are added to an existing instrumental jazz solo. This involves transcribing a saxophone or trumpet solo and then singing those lines with newly crafted lyrics. Jon Hendricks and Lambert, Hendricks & Ross are famous for popularizing vocalese.
  3. Melodic Embellishments: Jazz vocalists often embellish the melody of a song by adding slides, grace notes, trills, and other ornaments. These embellishments add personal flair to the performance and showcase the singer’s creativity.
  4. Phrasing and Articulation: Phrasing in vocal jazz involves shaping musical ideas by grouping notes in expressive and rhythmic patterns. Articulation refers to how the singer enunciates the words, employing legato, staccato, and other techniques to add nuance to the performance.
  5. Extended Vocal Techniques: Vocal jazz singers may use extended techniques like vocal growls, whispers, vocal fry, and multiphonics to add texture and variety to their singing.

Improvisation in Vocal Jazz:

  1. Harmonic Knowledge: Jazz vocalists need a strong understanding of jazz harmony and chord progressions. This knowledge allows them to navigate through chord changes and choose appropriate notes for their improvisations.
  2. Scales and Modes: Jazz singers should be familiar with various scales and modes commonly used in jazz improvisation, such as the major and minor scales, pentatonic scales, blues scale, and various modes of the major scale.
  3. Ear Training: Improvisation requires a well-developed ear to hear and anticipate chord changes and melodies. Ear training helps vocalists to recognize intervals, chord qualities, and melodic patterns, aiding them in creating spontaneous musical ideas.
  4. Imitation and Assimilation: Vocal jazz improvisation is often influenced by the style of instrumental jazz musicians. Singers can learn from instrumental solos, recordings, and live performances, and incorporate those ideas into their improvisational vocabulary.
  5. Repetition and Development: Effective improvisation involves developing musical ideas throughout a performance. Singers may use repetition, variation, and development to create cohesive and engaging improvisations.
  6. Responsive Listening: Jazz is a collaborative art form, and vocalists must listen and respond to the other musicians they are performing with. Interaction with the band allows for more dynamic and exciting improvisations.
  7. Risk-Taking and Confidence: Improvisation requires a certain level of fearlessness and confidence. Jazz singers must be willing to take risks and embrace mistakes as learning opportunities to grow as improvisers.

Vocal jazz techniques and improvisation offer singers the freedom to express themselves creatively, creating unique and spontaneous musical moments that captivate audiences and fellow musicians alike. As with any art form, mastery comes with practice, dedication, and a passion for the music.

Role of Scat Singing in Vocal Jazz

Scat singing plays a central and distinctive role in vocal jazz, adding a level of excitement, creativity, and virtuosity to performances. Here are some key aspects of the role of scat singing in vocal jazz:

  1. Imitation of Instruments: Scat singing allows vocalists to emulate the sounds of musical instruments, particularly those typically found in jazz ensembles, such as saxophones, trumpets, and pianos. By doing so, scat singers become an integral part of the instrumental ensemble, blurring the lines between voice and instrument.
  2. Improvisation: Scat singing is a form of vocal improvisation. Singers create spontaneous melodic lines and rhythms using nonsensical syllables (like “doo,” “bah,” “bop,” etc.) instead of singing traditional lyrics. This improvisational aspect is at the core of jazz, and scat singing allows vocalists to participate in the instrumental interplay and soloing that define jazz performances.
  3. Expressive Freedom: Scat singing gives vocalists a tremendous amount of expressive freedom. By not being bound to specific lyrics, singers can use their voices as instruments to explore a wide range of emotions and convey their artistic vision more dynamically.
  4. Personal Style and Creativity: Scat singing allows jazz singers to showcase their individual style and creativity. Each vocalist develops their unique scatting vocabulary, incorporating their preferred phrasing, rhythms, and melodic choices. This personal touch contributes to the diversity and richness of vocal jazz.
  5. Interaction with Instrumentalists: Scat singers often engage in musical dialogues with instrumentalists during solos and improvisational passages. This interactive aspect fosters a sense of collaboration and spontaneity, making each performance unique.
  6. Enhancing Instrumental Solos: When scatting during instrumental solos, vocalists can echo and complement the improvisations of instrumentalists. This call-and-response dynamic between the voice and other instruments adds depth and excitement to the music.
  7. Historical Significance: Scat singing has a rich historical significance in jazz. Pioneering artists like Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald popularized scat singing, helping to establish it as an essential feature of vocal jazz. These early innovators paved the way for generations of vocalists to embrace and expand the technique.
  8. Audience Engagement: Scat singing often captivates audiences and enhances their overall enjoyment of jazz performances. The sheer artistry and skill displayed by scat singers can leave audiences in awe and create a memorable musical experience.

Vocal Jazz Ensembles and Vocal Harmony

What is Vocal jazz music?

Vocal jazz ensembles and vocal harmony are essential components of the genre, offering a unique and captivating musical experience. Let’s explore both aspects:

Vocal Jazz Ensembles:

  1. Group Dynamics: Vocal jazz ensembles typically consist of multiple singers, each with their own vocal range and timbre. The ensemble may range from a small group of three or four singers to larger groups with six or more members. The singers work together to create a cohesive and unified sound.
  2. Arrangements: Vocal jazz ensembles perform arrangements that are specifically tailored for multiple voices. These arrangements often include intricate vocal harmonies, counterpoint, and call-and-response patterns, showcasing the collective talent and versatility of the group.
  3. Repertoire: Vocal jazz ensembles draw from a wide range of repertoire, including jazz standards, contemporary jazz compositions, and arrangements of popular songs. They may also incorporate original compositions into their performances.
  4. Interaction with Instrumentalists: Vocal jazz ensembles often collaborate with instrumentalists, such as jazz combos or big bands. The singers interact with the instrumentalists through improvised scat solos, vocal improvisation over instrumental sections, and coordinated instrumental-vocal passages.
  5. Vocal Percussion: Some vocal jazz ensembles incorporate vocal percussion, also known as beatboxing, into their performances. This involves using the voice to mimic drum sounds and rhythms, adding a rhythmic and percussive element to the ensemble’s sound.
  6. Vocal Soloists: In addition to ensemble singing, vocal jazz ensembles feature individual vocal soloists who take the spotlight during performances. These soloists showcase their improvisational skills and interpretive abilities.

Vocal Harmony in Jazz:

  1. Close Harmony: Vocal jazz harmony involves singers performing in close proximity to one another, creating a blend that is warm and intimate. Singers carefully balance their voices to create rich and resonant harmonies.
  2. Chord Voicings: Vocal jazz harmony often uses specific chord voicings, such as close voicings, drop 2 voicings, and extended chords. These harmonies complement the instrumental accompaniment and contribute to the overall jazz sound.
  3. A Capella Groups: Some vocal jazz ensembles perform a capella, meaning without instrumental accompaniment. This showcases the group’s vocal abilities and emphasizes the beauty of vocal harmony.
  4. Chromaticism: Vocal jazz harmony sometimes incorporates chromaticism, adding tension and color to the chords. Chromatic movement between chords and vocal lines is a characteristic feature of jazz harmony.
  5. Vocal Doubling: Vocal jazz ensembles may use doubling, where singers perform the same melody in unison or octaves, creating a fuller and more powerful sound.
  6. Vocal Cross-Section: In larger vocal jazz ensembles, singers may be divided into sections (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) to cover a broader vocal range and create different harmonies through the interaction of these sections.

Vocal jazz ensembles and vocal harmony are essential elements that contribute to the artistry and allure of jazz music. Their ability to blend voices, create intricate harmonies, and perform creatively allows vocal jazz to deliver captivating and emotionally resonant performances.

Famous Vocal Jazz Standards and Repertoire

Vocal jazz standards are timeless songs that have become iconic in the genre, with numerous singers interpreting them over the years. These songs have stood the test of time and are frequently performed by jazz vocalists.

Here are some famous vocal jazz standards and classic repertoire:

  1. “Summertime”: This jazz standard is from George Gershwin’s opera “Porgy and Bess.” It has been recorded by countless jazz artists, including Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and Louis Armstrong.
  2. “All the Things You Are”: With music by Jerome Kern and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, this song is a staple in the jazz repertoire. Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, and Frank Sinatra are among the many who have recorded it.
  3. “My Funny Valentine”: Written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, this romantic ballad has been recorded by Chet Baker, Frank Sinatra, and many others.
  4. “Autumn Leaves”: Originally a French song (“Les Feuilles Mortes”) by Joseph Kosma, Johnny Mercer wrote English lyrics for it. It has been recorded by Nat King Cole, Edith Piaf, and many jazz vocalists.
  5. “Fly Me to the Moon”: Written by Bart Howard, this song became famous after being recorded by Frank Sinatra. It remains a beloved jazz standard, covered by many artists, including Diana Krall and Tony Bennett.
  6. “Take the ‘A’ Train”: Composed by Billy Strayhorn, with lyrics by Joya Sherrill, this song became the signature tune of the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Ella Fitzgerald and Betty Carter are among the artists who have performed it.
  7. “Lullaby of Birdland”: Written by George Shearing and George David Weiss, this jazz classic has been recorded by Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, and others.
  8. “Misty”: Composed by Erroll Garner with lyrics by Johnny Burke, “Misty” is a beloved jazz ballad covered by vocalists such as Ella Fitzgerald and Johnny Mathis.
  9. “The Girl from Ipanema”: This bossa nova classic, with music by Antonio Carlos Jobim and English lyrics by Norman Gimbel, became a worldwide hit. Versions by Astrud Gilberto and Stan Getz, among others, made it famous.
  10. “What a Wonderful World”: Written by Bob Thiele and George David Weiss, this beautiful song was popularized by Louis Armstrong and has been covered by numerous artists, becoming an enduring anthem.
  11. “A Night in Tunisia”: Composed by Dizzy Gillespie and Frank Paparelli, this bebop standard has been recorded by vocalists like Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan.
  12. “Blue Skies”: Written by Irving Berlin, this classic has been interpreted by Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and many others.

These are just a few examples of the many vocal jazz standards that have become part of the rich and diverse repertoire of jazz vocalists.

Vocal Jazz and its Connection to Blues and Gospel

Vocal jazz has deep-rooted connections to both blues and gospel music, and these influences have significantly shaped the development and evolution of the genre. Understanding the connections between vocal jazz, blues, and gospel is essential to grasp the rich history and soulful essence of jazz singing. Here’s how these genres intertwine:

Blues Influence on Vocal Jazz:

  • Emotional Expression: Both blues and vocal jazz are characterized by their emotional expressiveness. The blues, with its roots in African-American traditions, conveys feelings of sadness, joy, longing, and resilience. Vocal jazz draws upon this emotional depth, using phrasing, tone, and improvisation to express a wide range of emotions.
  • Call-and-Response: The call-and-response pattern, common in blues music, involves a leader’s vocal line being answered or echoed by a chorus or instrumental response. Vocal jazz often incorporates similar call-and-response elements between the lead vocalist and other singers or instrumentalists, fostering interaction and dynamic exchanges.
  • Improvisation: The art of improvisation is at the heart of both blues and jazz. Early blues singers, like Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey, used improvised phrasing and vocal ornamentation to enhance their performances. Jazz vocalists have expanded on this tradition, incorporating scat singing and melodic improvisation into their singing.
  • Melodic and Harmonic Influences: Blues melodies and harmonies have had a significant impact on the vocabulary of vocal jazz. Many jazz standards incorporate bluesy elements in their melodies and chord progressions, contributing to the unique flavor of vocal jazz performances.

Gospel Influence on Vocal Jazz:

  • Vocal Techniques: Gospel music is known for its powerful, soulful vocal delivery and vocal acrobatics. Vocal jazz singers have embraced and adapted many of these techniques, using melisma, gospel-style runs, and passionate delivery to add intensity to their performances.
  • Spiritual Roots: Both gospel and jazz have roots in African-American spiritual traditions. Gospel music evolved from spirituals, hymns, and church music, while jazz emerged from the musical expressions of Black communities. This shared spiritual heritage contributes to the soulful and heartfelt nature of vocal jazz.
  • Harmonies and Vocal Arrangements: Gospel choirs often feature rich vocal harmonies and elaborate arrangements. These harmonic elements have influenced vocal jazz arrangements, particularly in vocal jazz ensembles that incorporate close harmony and intricate vocal parts.
  • Emphasis on Storytelling: Gospel music often tells stories of faith, hope, and overcoming adversity. Vocal jazz also emphasizes storytelling through lyrics and vocal interpretation, making meaningful connections between the two genres.

Vocal Jazz in Contemporary Music

What is Vocal jazz music?

Vocal jazz continues to have a significant presence in contemporary music, with artists blending traditional elements with modern influences to create fresh and innovative sounds. Here are some ways vocal jazz is found in contemporary music:

  1. Fusion with Other Genres: Contemporary vocal jazz artists often blend jazz with other genres such as R&B, soul, funk, pop, and hip-hop. This fusion expands the musical possibilities and attracts a diverse audience. Artists like Gregory Porter, Esperanza Spalding, and Jacob Collier are known for incorporating various genres into their vocal jazz performances.
  2. Experimental and Avant-garde: Some vocal jazz artists push the boundaries of the genre, exploring experimental and avant-garde approaches. They may incorporate electronics, vocal looping, and unconventional vocal techniques to create innovative and unique sounds.
  3. Influence on Mainstream Pop Music: Elements of vocal jazz, such as scat singing, melodic embellishments, and improvisation, have influenced mainstream pop music. Singers like Norah Jones, Amy Winehouse, and John Legend have incorporated jazz-inspired techniques into their pop songs.
  4. Collaborations with Instrumental Jazz Musicians: Contemporary vocal jazz artists often collaborate with instrumental jazz musicians and jazz ensembles. These collaborations showcase the synergy between vocalists and instrumentalists, resulting in dynamic and captivating performances.
  5. Expanding Repertoire: While classic vocal jazz standards remain essential, contemporary vocal jazz artists are expanding the repertoire with original compositions. They bring fresh perspectives and lyrics that reflect contemporary themes and experiences.
  6. Vocal Jazz in Film and Television: Vocal jazz is frequently used in film soundtracks and television shows, adding a touch of sophistication and nostalgia to various scenes. Jazz-infused vocals create mood and ambiance, enhancing storytelling and emotional impact.
  7. Vocal Jazz Competitions and Festivals: Vocal jazz remains a vibrant part of the music industry through competitions and festivals dedicated to jazz singing. These events provide platforms for emerging artists to showcase their talents and connect with audiences and industry professionals.
  8. Education and Vocal Jazz Programs: Many educational institutions offer vocal jazz programs, nurturing the next generation of jazz vocalists. These programs provide aspiring singers with opportunities to learn from experienced professionals and develop their skills.

Overall, contemporary vocal jazz artists are not only preserving the tradition but also evolving the genre through creativity, exploration, and cross-genre collaborations.

Vocal Jazz vs. Instrumental Jazz: Key Differences

Here are some of the key differences between vocal jazz and instrumental jazz:

  • Instrumentation: Vocal jazz obviously features the human voice as the lead instrument, while instrumental jazz features any combination of instruments.
  • Emphasis: In vocal jazz, the emphasis is on the lyrics and the melody, while in instrumental jazz, the emphasis is on the improvisation and the interplay between the instruments.
  • Technique: Vocal jazz singers must be skilled in both singing and improvisation, while instrumental jazz musicians must be skilled in their respective instruments and improvisation.
  • Style: Vocal jazz styles can range from traditional to contemporary, while instrumental jazz styles can range from swing to bebop to fusion.

Here is a table summarizing the key differences between vocal jazz and instrumental jazz:

Feature Vocal Jazz Instrumental Jazz
Instrumentation Voice Any combination of instruments
Emphasis Lyrics and melody Improvisation and interplay between instruments
Technique Singing and improvisation Instrument playing and improvisation
Style Traditional to contemporary Swing to bebop to fusion

Of course, there are also many similarities between vocal jazz and instrumental jazz. Both genres are based on the jazz idiom, which includes elements such as improvisation, syncopation, and complex harmonies. Both genres also require a high level of skill and musicianship.

Ultimately, the best way to choose between vocal jazz and instrumental jazz is to listen to both genres and see which one you prefer. There is no right or wrong answer, as both genres have their own unique appeal.

Vocal Jazz Techniques in Recording and Production

Vocal jazz techniques in recording and production are essential in capturing the unique and expressive qualities of jazz singers. Whether recording in a studio or producing a live performance, specific techniques are employed to showcase the nuances and artistry of the vocalists.

Here are some key vocal jazz techniques used in recording and production:

  1. Microphone Selection and Placement:
  • Choosing the right microphone is crucial to capture the singer’s vocal tone accurately. Large-diaphragm condenser microphones are commonly preferred for vocal jazz recordings due to their sensitivity and ability to capture fine details. The microphone is positioned to optimize the singer’s tone and minimize background noise and unwanted room reflections.
  1. Vocal Booth and Isolation:
  • In the studio, vocal booths or isolation shields are used to separate the singer from other instruments and reduce bleed from other sound sources. This isolation ensures a cleaner vocal recording, allowing for more control during mixing.
  1. Preamp and Signal Processing:
  • High-quality preamps are used to amplify the microphone signal before recording. Compression and equalization may also be applied during recording to control dynamics and shape the vocal sound, respectively.
  1. Monitoring and Headphones:
  • Vocalists are often provided with headphones during recording to monitor their own performance and hear accompaniment or guide tracks. Ensuring the vocalist has a comfortable and clear monitor mix is essential for a confident and expressive performance.
  1. Take Selection and Comping:
  • Multiple takes of the vocal performance are recorded, allowing the producer and singer to choose the best performances. Comping involves selecting the best parts from different takes and assembling them into a seamless and polished vocal track.
  1. Vocal Layering and Harmonies:
  • Vocal jazz recordings often feature layered harmonies and vocal arrangements. In post-production, additional vocal tracks can be added to enhance the vocal texture and create lush harmonies.
  1. Balancing with Instrumentation:
  • In a vocal jazz recording, achieving a balanced mix between the vocals and the accompanying instruments is critical. The vocals should be clear and prominent without overpowering the instrumental accompaniment.
  1. Mixing and Effects:
  • During the mixing process, various effects like reverb and delay may be applied to add depth and space to the vocal sound. Careful attention is given to preserving the natural and intimate qualities of the vocal performance.
  1. Editing and Pitch Correction:
  • Editing may be employed to fix minor imperfections in the vocal performance. However, preserving the authenticity and spontaneity of the jazz performance is a priority. If necessary, pitch correction may be applied subtly to correct pitch issues while maintaining the natural character of the vocalist’s delivery.

Overall, vocal jazz recording and production aim to capture the charisma, emotion, and improvisational spirit of the jazz vocalist while providing a polished and compelling final product.

Vocal Jazz Competitions and Festivals

What is Vocal jazz music?

There are many vocal jazz competitions and festivals held around the world. Some of the most prestigious include:

  • Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition: This competition is held annually in Newark, New Jersey, and is open to solo vocalists of all nationalities who are not signed to a major record label.
  • Thelonious Monk Institute International Jazz Vocal Competition: This competition is held annually in Los Angeles, California, and is open to solo vocalists of all nationalities who are not signed to a major record label.
  • Vocal Jazz Summit: This festival is held annually in New York City, and features performances by some of the world’s leading vocal jazz artists.
  • Vocal Jazz Festival of the Monterey Bay: This festival is held annually in Monterey, California, and features performances by vocal jazz ensembles from around the world.
  • Vocal Jazz Festival of Washington, D.C.: This festival is held annually in Washington, D.C., and features performances by vocal jazz ensembles from around the country.

In addition to these prestigious competitions and festivals, there are many other vocal jazz competitions and festivals held around the world. These competitions and festivals provide a great opportunity for vocal jazz singers to showcase their talents and compete against other talented singers.

Also, they provide a great opportunity for singers to learn from some of the world’s leading vocal jazz artists.

If you are a vocal jazz singer, I encourage you to research the different vocal jazz competitions and festivals that are held around the world. You may find one that is a perfect fit for you.

How Vocal Jazz Explores Phrasing and Interpretation

Vocal jazz is celebrated for its exceptional exploration of phrasing and interpretation, which are essential elements of the genre’s expressive and emotive qualities. Jazz singers use these techniques to add their personal touch to the music, create unique performances, and engage audiences on a profound level. Here’s how vocal jazz explores phrasing and interpretation:

  1. Flexible and Fluid Phrasing:
  • Vocal jazz singers have the liberty to shape phrases in a flexible and fluid manner. They can stretch or compress the rhythm, creating a sense of syncopation and swing. This rhythmic freedom allows vocalists to infuse the music with their individuality and spontaneity.
  1. Emphasis on the Storytelling:
  • Jazz singers prioritize storytelling through their vocal performances. They use phrasing to emphasize the lyrics’ meaning and convey emotions. By accentuating certain words or syllables, they add depth and nuance to the song’s narrative, drawing listeners into the story being told.
  1. Artful Use of Dynamics:
  • Vocal jazz artists skillfully utilize dynamics to convey emotions and guide the listener’s journey through the song. They may crescendo or decrescendo at specific points, creating tension and release within the music. Dynamic variation is an integral part of jazz phrasing and interpretation.
  1. Interpretation of Melodies:
  • Vocal jazz singers often interpret melodies in their unique style. They may add melodic embellishments, slides, and vocal inflections to make the melody their own. This inventive approach to melody adds an improvisational aspect to the performance.
  1. Interaction with Instrumental Accompaniment:
  • In vocal jazz performances, singers interact with the instrumental accompaniment. They may engage in call-and-response patterns with instrumentalists or improvise vocal solos over instrumental sections. This interaction enriches the phrasing and interpretation, creating a cohesive musical dialogue.
  1. Use of Scat Singing:
  • Scat singing, a form of vocal improvisation using nonsensical syllables, allows jazz singers to explore intricate and playful phrasing. They can experiment with rhythmic patterns, melodic lines, and vocal textures, showcasing their virtuosity and creativity.
  1. Dynamic Phrase Endings:
  • Jazz vocalists often use inventive phrase endings, including melodic turns, suspensions, and rhythmic accents. These unique endings add flair to the phrasing, making the performance memorable and engaging.
  1. Emotional Expression:
  • Phrasing and interpretation in vocal jazz are deeply connected to emotional expression. Singers use these techniques to convey joy, sorrow, passion, and a myriad of emotions. This emotional authenticity is a hallmark of vocal jazz performances.

Overall, vocal jazz singers explore phrasing and interpretation as a means of self-expression and communication with their audience. They use these techniques to convey their musical personality, connect with listeners on an emotional level, and breathe new life into timeless jazz standards and original compositions.

Vocal Jazz’s Impact on Popular Music and Cross-Genres

Vocal jazz has had a significant impact on popular music and cross-genres, influencing various styles and artists. Its expressive and improvisational nature, as well as its rich heritage of storytelling and emotional depth, has left a lasting mark on the music landscape.

Here are some ways in which vocal jazz has influenced popular music and crossed over into other genres:

  1. Influence on Pop Singers:
  • Many pop singers have drawn inspiration from vocal jazz techniques, incorporating elements like scat singing, melodic embellishments, and improvisation into their performances. Artists like Amy Winehouse, Norah Jones, and Michael Bublé have embraced vocal jazz aesthetics, infusing their pop songs with a jazz sensibility.
  1. Jazz Standards in Popular Music:
  • Jazz standards, which originated in vocal jazz, have become a rich source of repertoire for pop and contemporary artists. These timeless songs are frequently covered in various styles, making them accessible to a wider audience.
  1. Cross-Genre Collaborations:
  • Vocal jazz artists have collaborated with musicians from diverse genres, resulting in unique and innovative fusions. Jazz vocalists working with R&B, soul, hip-hop, and electronic artists have led to the creation of exciting cross-genre collaborations that expand the boundaries of both jazz and the partnering styles.
  1. Impact on Soul and R&B:
  • Vocal jazz’s emotive and soulful qualities have heavily influenced soul and R&B music. The vocal stylings of iconic jazz singers like Billie Holiday and Nina Simone have inspired generations of soul and R&B artists, shaping the way they approach phrasing and vocal expression.
  1. Sampling and Remixing:
  • Jazz vocal recordings have been sampled and remixed in various electronic and hip-hop productions, demonstrating the genre’s adaptability to modern musical trends. This has led to jazz-infused elements being woven into contemporary music.
  1. Use in Film Soundtracks and Commercials:
  • Vocal jazz recordings are often used in film soundtracks and commercials due to their timeless appeal and ability to evoke specific moods and emotions. Jazz vocals add sophistication and nostalgia to various visual media.
  1. Influence on Songwriting and Lyricism:
  • The storytelling aspect of vocal jazz has influenced songwriting and lyricism in popular music. Many songwriters draw inspiration from jazz lyricists’ poetic and emotive approach, infusing their own songs with deeper meaning and authenticity.
  1. Jazz and Latin Music Fusion:
  • Jazz vocalists have collaborated with Latin jazz musicians, leading to the fusion of jazz harmonies and vocal styles with Latin rhythms and melodies. This cross-genre collaboration has resulted in vibrant and rhythmically rich performances.


What is Vocal jazz music? Vocal jazz music is a captivating and expressive genre that showcases the artistry of jazz singers. Rooted in African-American traditions and deeply influenced by blues and gospel, vocal jazz embraces improvisation, scat singing, and melodic embellishments.

Jazz vocalists use their voices as instruments, creating soulful and emotive performances that tell stories and connect with audiences on a profound level. From classic jazz standards to contemporary explorations, vocal jazz continues to inspire and shape popular music and cross-genres, leaving an indelible mark on the music landscape.

Its ability to blend tradition with innovation ensures that vocal jazz remains a timeless and vibrant art form cherished by musicians and listeners alike.