funics

Vocalese Jazz

In History on October 1, 2010 at 3:19 pm

Vocalese is a style or genre of jazz singing wherein lyrics are written for melodies that were originally part of an all-instrumental composition or improvisation. Whereas scat singing uses improvised nonsense syllables, such as “bap ba dee dot bwee dee” in solos, vocalese uses lyrics, either improvised or set to pre-existing instrumental solos. The word “vocalese” is a play on the musical term “vocalise” and the suffix “-ese”, meant to indicate a sort of language.

The inventor and most prolific practitioner of vocalese was Eddie Jefferson, whose rendition of Coleman Hawkins’s “Body and Soul” became a hit on its own. Pioneers of vocalese include King Pleasure and Babs Gonzales, Jefferson’s former dance partner.

The best-known practitioners are probably Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, which was made up of Jon Hendricks, Dave Lambert and Annie Ross. Ross’s 1952 lyrics for the song “Twisted”, a blues improvisation by saxophonist Wardell Gray, are considered a classic of the genre. Other performers known for vocalese include Bob Dorough, Giacomo Gates, Kurt Elling, Al Jarreau, Mark Murphy, Roger Miller and The Manhattan Transfer, with their Grammy-winning version of Weather Report’s “Birdland” set to lyrics by Jon Hendricks.

Some performers, notably Slim Gaillard, Harry Gibson, Cab Calloway, and Leo Watson, combine vocalese improvisations with scat singing.

Most vocalese lyrics are entirely syllabic, as opposed to melismatic. This may lead to the use of many words sung quickly in a given phrase, especially in the case of bebop.

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