Sunday Jazz — July 28th
If asked to describe Jazz with 5 words, I would guess that most people’s list would include the word “improvisation.” Much of the history of Jazz was, and most likely still is, written during late night jam sessions where artists would try out new techniques and tempos. When someone hit upon a sound that was new and fresh, everyone around them adapted the sound of their instrument. Furthermore, improvisation shows itself in the fact that two recordings of the same exact song can often sound miles apart even when it’s played by the same group–every cut is an opportunity to take the melody and tempo to a different place.
This improvisation isn’t limited to the sounds coming from horns, keys, strings, or drums though. Jazz vocalists adapt on the fly almost as often as the bands behind them, with the form of singing known as “scat” being the prime example. Wikipedia defines scat as “vocal improvisation with wordless vocables, nonsense syllables or without words at all. Scat singing gives singers the ability to sing improvised melodies and rhythms, to create the equivalent of an instrumental solo using their voice.”
The list of Jazz vocalists who incorporated scat into their singing is lengthy, and reads like an All-Star roster: Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Bing Crosby, Sarah Vaughn, Cab Calloway, and on. Scat has also made its way into more modern music, with elements present in the songs of artists ranging from Aretha Franklin, to Van Morrison, to Chaka Khan, to Dave Matthews. But scat’s widest popularity was undoubtedly during the height of Jazz from the late 20’s through the bop era of the 50’s and 60’s, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to crown the one and only Ella Fitzgerald as its Queen.
Which brings us to the video for today. This is a 1969 recording of Fitzgerald where she doesn’t just incorporate scat into some other vocals, but she unleashes a 6 minute performance entirely in scat. It’s performances and abilities like this one that put Ella’s voice right next to the trumpets, saxophones, pianos, and guitars of the all-time greats in Jazz history. Enjoy.