Friday, July 3, 2009

The Art Of The Jazz Vocalist (Part I)

For many, jazz vocals are a strange and argumentative subject.

For me, I love that argument.

I believe there is one thing on which we can all can agree -- there will never be another Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Carmen McRae, Helen Merrill, Jimmy Rushing, Mel Torme, Johnny Hartman, Anita O'Day and someday Tony Bennett. I could go on but I think you get the idea.

But today we have a number of vocalists who have picked up the mantle in fantastic fashion. Many of whom should get more respect than they do within the jazz community. In this two part entry I wanted to give my thoughts and a list of current artists whom I believe are either moving forward with the tradition of jazz vocals or are adequate pretenders that are okay for your dinner party. I've also included a couple of videos from youtube that are pretty interesting.

Stacey Kent (b.1968)

Stacey Kent is an American born singer married and living in England. Her style is very relaxed. She mainly sticks to standards and performers them extremely well; She has continued to hold the candle for the great American Songbook. She has recorded seven albums the most recent entitled Breakfast on the Morning Tram (Blue Note), although I feel the perfect selection of upbeat and mellow recordings for the beginner exist on her 1999 album Let Yourself Go (Candid Records). An enjoyable adventure for you if you're looking for new vocalists.

"Shall We Do? (Live In Stuggart): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rxFIot-2s3U

Claire Martin (b.1967)

Claire Martin for me is far and away the leader of this entire list. She has been around a long time and her material contains standards, originals and an interesting array of covers (David Sylvian, Nick Drake among others). She has a delicate and extremely well concentrated delivery that will captivate you from the start. Try the album Take My Heart as a great starting point. It features covers of Thomas Dolby and the aforementioned Sylvian and Drake. Also for a good overview of her first seven albums (she has eleven in all), try The Very Best Of Claire Martin (Linn Records).

"Gettin' High" (Live): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mIOUvgLM06A

Mark Murphy (b.1932)

Mark is not every one's cup of tea. His vocals are almost spoken at times. At others they are like Haiku. Either way in my opinion he is a benchmark for many jazz vocalists. Think what Al Jarreau or Bobby McFerrin could do if they had better songwriters or songs to write about. Mark has been best known for his Kerouac recordings from the sixties, Bop For Kerouac and Kerouac Then And Now. He has released two critically acclaimed albums in the last four years Once To Every Heart and Love Is What Stays (both on Verve). His current work with a number of European jazz artists has raised his profile among the "Hip Crowd" but that's worth it. I do recommend you try him out even if you end up not liking him. It's worth the listen to see what an adventurous vocalist can do.

"Empty Faces" (Live from a forthcoming documentary): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=61d7PpVmfzU

Diana Krall (b.1964)

Talk about not every one's cup of tea. Now we've reached it. I am not a fan of Diana Krall at all. I'm still trying to figure out what the fascination is with her. She is an average piano player. Her standards are very pedestrian. And finally her vocals are raspy to the point of pretentious. I see the possible Carmen McCrae influence but it's nItalicot having any impact on me. To contradict myself I understand that sometimes this marginal fare is easily digestible to the public at large and for that, more power to her. She has a large enough discography now that she also has a best of compilation, The Very Best Of Diana Krall (Verve) that is probably a good place for anyone other me to start.

Karrin Allyson (b.1963)

An Amazing vocalist who has experimented with each album - She has delved into the American Songbook, jazz standards, pop, blues and most recently bossa nova and samba. Her most popular album was the 2001, Ballads: A Tribute To John Coltrane (Concord Records). I continue to enjoy her exploration into different genres. It sometimes is not easy for the uninitiated but if you like your favorite musicians to experiment and not put out the same album year after year than I suggest Karrin Allyson as option. Check out In Blue (Concord Records) for starters. She is a magnificent composer, pianist, & songwriter who I'm sure you will come to love. Karrin Allyson has also just released her first compilation entitled By Request: The Best of Karrin Allyson (Concord Records).

"Moanin" (Live At Montreux): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V5PLPI9DCA8

This is only the beginning. Take a listen and experience these artist for yourself. I hope you enjoy them and I would be interested in hearing your opinions. Jazz vocalists are a slightly different breed and everyone has a different vibe that they are looking for. I hope yours lays somewhere in this two part discussion.

More next time.

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