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Many people are impressed with the characteristics of jazz singing: that magic phrasing, soft vibrato, and emotional voices have given popular singing a lot of resources that often get transposed to other genres of music as well.
At my singing studio in Auckland (Auckland Contemporary Singing School), our adult students and I are taking the whole winter to have some fun learning to sing jazz! I am not a jazz singer myself apart from the jazz studies and repertoire learned through my singing studies, so I am learning a lot too. Beginners, aren’t we all! There is definitely so much we can learn by exploring a specific music genre for a while – even if we don’t plan to become masters at it!
So, in order to deepen my knowledge about jazz singing for our fun Winter Jazz, I got a book called So You Want To Sing Jazz: A Guide For Professionals, by Jan Shapiro, and I am using what I am learning from it to tell you today a little bit about the origins of jazz singing elements, for you to have an introduction to jazz singing and perhaps, borrow some of the characteristics of jazz singing for your own singing voice. So, let’s learn together!
It is not possible to talk about the origins of jazz without mentioning blues! The development of the blues genre is of great importance for the development of jazz as jazz has developed many of its own stylistic elements from blues.
Blues music has elements of African music (melody and rhythm) combined with the emotional intensity of sadness and melancholy. Throughout the evolution of blues music, a new scale was developed that was not familiar to western music yet: the “blues” scale. Also, the communication between slaves through singing and voice laments was foundational for the emotional deepness and intensity that is so characteristic of blues music and that are found in jazz later on as well.
When slavery was ended, blues continue to develop as we know them today.
Swing music emerged in the early 20’ century. This style of music contained elements of blues, ragtime, and brass bands. Swing music and its characteristic rhythmic feel would have an impact on jazz music later on.
Big bands developed in the 30’ and 40’. Singers that shone with them include Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald.
In the beginning, scat singing was born from singers imitating different elements of the orchestra, such as the trumpet or sax. Scat is a form of vocal improvisation that brings singing closer to being used as a musical instrument, as scat doesn’t use full words.
During the 50’ and by the 60’, jazz vocalists developed more complex improvisational elements in their singing.
Jazz singing elements evolved through many decades and through different music genres that we could say evolved from blues music.
I would say my favorite element of jazz singing is the phrasing freedom that singers have. Such freedom can only be found when a certain level of mastery over the rhythm has been achieved.
So taking a look at the different examples that I found in the book of different eras, I can definitely hear where some of my favorite singers got some of their vocal resources. Specially phrasing! Because really we can borrow some of these elements and add them to our own styles. For me, as a singer-songwriter and singer of Argentinian folklore (that’s the name of the genre), I can certainly think about how I will be implementing some of the new elements of style that we are learning from our Jazz Winter at Auckland Contemporary Singing School.❤️
Shapiro, J. (2016). So You Want To Sing Jazz: A Guide For Professionals”. Rowman & Littlefield.
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Auckland Contemporary Singing School
We are a music studio in Auckland (North Shore – Unsworth Heights area) focused 100% in the art of singing!
Our adult private students also have the chance to take an extra group class every week in Unsworth Heights (Auckland – North Shore area), in which we have lots of fun exploring different aspects of singing.
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