To the Vocalists

24 May

It seems that recently I have been presented with an onslaught of male jazz singers that seem to be…well…confused and moody.

Everyone who likes vocal music likes it for their own particular reasons. Obviously having a good voice and the ability to sing in tune is a nice start. And be it a male or female singer, I enjoy an uptempo vocal tune that shows a little fun or a little attitude, and a ballad that makes its best attempt to tug at the heartstrings.

As far as the female singers go – keep up the good work. I’m happy hearing Dianne Reeves and Roberta Gambarini swing, Maria Muldaur and Ernestine Anderson lay down the law and tell it like it is, and hear Diana Krall and Tierney Sutton sing great versions of ballads like A Case of You and Two For the Road.

I feel like when I am listening to them, their personalities and talents are reflected in the music they are choosing to sing.

But lately, I feel like the guys are letting me down a bit. There are exceptions, of course. Ever since his 2004 recording Twentysomething, I’ve been impressed with what British vocalist Jamie Cullum has been doing.  Cullum, maybe more than anyone that could qualify as a jazz vocalist, reflects his personality in his music. You listen to one Jamie Cullum album, and you feel like you know what you are in for if you were to head out for a night on the town with him. His voice and attitude match his lyrics and music, and it makes sense.

He has attitude. But this attitude doesn’t confuse you, the way I am confused by what other male vocalists of today are trying to convey. It is as if they are so confused about how to express their personality through their voice, that it has just got them feeling mopey, lethargic, and overly contemplative, and that’s how it sounds. Some great male vocalists sang sad songs (Johnny Hartman, for example), but these sad songs had purpose. A girl left them. The dog ran away. We can all relate to that kind of sadness and the voice that is expressing it to us.

But no song is going to tug at your heartstrings, or make you smile or dance, if it doesn’t make sense to you. A song will never matter, no matter how pretty the strings or horns sound in the background, if there is no way for the listener to relate, or in many cases, even understand what the singer is trying to say. And if the singer cannot communicate, be it via the lyrics, emotion, or both, it just doesn’t work.

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5 Responses to “To the Vocalists”

  1. ellifordyce May 24, 2010 at 9:33 am #

    Hi Kevin:

    Wanted to say hi and introduce myself aftering seeing your blog for the first time with your post about vocalists (reposted on Twitter). Would love to touch base: at ellifordyce@msn.com or @ellifordyce2 (http://www.ellifordyce.net).

    Best,

    Elli

  2. Robin Lloyd May 24, 2010 at 12:55 pm #

    My pet peeve lately has been the very young, mostly female singers who really are not telling the story of the song. They get the lyrics wrong, and don’t convey the songwriter’s inteded meaning. It’s not that they’re interpreting…it’s that they haven’t lived long or hard enough to understand the stories.
    “You go to my head, like a sizzling spark of burgundy blue…”??? Obviously, unclear on the concept.

  3. ellifordyce May 24, 2010 at 4:06 pm #

    Hey Robin, don’t know if you’ll see this but how about a 73-yr.-old vocalist, singing off-and-on since ’55, finally getting 2 CDs together. I think you’ll like them, judging from your earlier comment: http://www.ellifordyce.com. Hope so, let me know at ellifordyce@msn.com
    and thanks for caring about vocals.
    Best,

    Elli

  4. sue May 26, 2010 at 1:16 pm #

    Yes you hit it with Jamie Cullum… I have been a fan of his for about 6 years now and he is basically just what you see up on stage… Of course now hanging out with him would be a little different.. he has a lovely wife…Sophie Dahl and when I hear his songs at least I know just who he is singing all those lovely melodies to. But he is funky and a bit crazy too.

  5. Jim Eigo May 27, 2010 at 6:25 am #

    THE BENNY GOODMAN – RED NORVO “FIGHT” WAS JUST A PUT ON, A JOKE. THEY HAD BEEN DOING THAT AS PART OF THE ACT FOR YEARS! THIS SHOW WAS FILMED IN ADVANCE, ANYTHNG THAT WAS NOT REHEASED WAS DELEATED. ANYWAY, IT WAS PART OF THE ACT.

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