Jazz It Up Vocally

You may think vocal jazz is unrelated to what you do as a choral educator, but you may be surprised! When asked if there are similarities in style/techniques between vocal jazz and “contemporary” singing, MENC choral mentor Chris Venesile  shared the following:

“All contemporary styles of singing that are healthy for the singer use similar techniques.”

“Diana Spradling, a renowned vocal jazz pedagogue, makes a case for contemporary singing as healthy singing–as much as traditional art singing. In classical singing and popular singing, Spradling emphasizes that techniques need not be defined as ‘good’ and ‘bad,’ but just different. It’s in the manipulation of resonance where the differences occur.”

“By comparing the visual ‘picture’ of recordings of voices of great jazz singers (through spectrographic analysis – a computer software program), Spradling demonstrated one can ‘see’ various vocal properties (vibrato, format, vowels etc.) and determine the technical ‘healthiness’ of the production.”

If you’ve been hesitant to try vocal jazz, it’s not a question of it being right, wrong, good or bad.

As Christine Nowmos (MENC 2006 choral mentor) suggested on MENC discussion forums,
“I think the important thing is to give kids examples of voices that are in tune and used healthily, rather than saying one style of singing is ‘better’ than another.”

“If you listen to some (early recordings of Stevie Wonder), you’ll hear that he has a range, flexibility, and sense of pitch that I think is equal (or surpasses) many classically trained singers I’ve heard, and an example of a beautiful tone quality appropriate for the type of music he sings. Same thing with Ella Fitzgerald. And they both do a lot of improvising with their voices as well, often over complex harmonic structures, which is an added skill that takes a lot of experience or at least an excellent ear/internalized sense of harmonic structure to be able to do well.”

Read more in the May/June 2010 issue of Ohio Music Education Association’s TRIAD journal, “Jazz Vocal Pedagogy: New Perspectives through Research and Technology” by Chris Venesile

–Sue Rarus, May 26, 2010, © National Association for Music Education