Vocalese

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Vocalese is a style or musical genre of jazz singing wherein words are sung note for note to melodies that were originally created by a soloist's improvisation. Kurt Elling, perhaps the most well known current practitioner of the style, describes the style as such: "Although the word 'vocalise' was first applied more strictly to Jon Hendricks' work in big band/multi-voice settings, it quickly broadened through general use to mean any application of a vocally presented lyric based on melodies first recorded by jazz instrumentalists, whether solos -a feat that could only have happened with the advent of recorded sound -the early composers of such lyrics essentially invented a new art form." [1]

Whereas scat singing uses improvised syllables, such as "bap ba dee dot bwee dee" in solos, vocalese uses written lyrics, set to pre-existing instrumental solos. In a 'first wave' of vocalese creation, this sometimes took the form of a tribute to the original instrumentalist, such as Eddie Jefferson's version of "Body and Soul," which featured lyrics about Coleman Hawkins, whose landmark solo on the tune is globally recognized. The word "vocalese" is a play on the musical term "vocalise" and the suffix "-ese", meant to indicate a sort of language, and the term is attributed to jazz critic Leonard Feather to describe the first Lambert, Hendricks, & Ross album, Sing a Song of Basie.[2]

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. Pleasure first gained popularity singing Jefferson's vocalese classic "Moody's Mood for Love", based on a James Moody saxophone solo to "I'm in the Mood for Love". However, Elling makes a point to recognize Bee Palmer, who sang lyrics to a Bix Biederbecke and Frankie Trumbauer solo on "Singin' the Blues" as early as 1929.

The best-known practitioners and popularisers are probably Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, which group 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[1], Kurt Elling, Al Jarreau, Mark Murphy, Roger Miller, New York Voices, and The Manhattan Transfer, whose Grammy-winning version of Weather Report's "Birdland" featured lyrics by Jon Hendricks. Notably, Joni Mitchell recorded lyrics to Mingus's tunes, with "The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines," and "Goodbye Porkpie Hat." Vocalese artists around the world include Les Double Six, popular in the 1960s, and in Canada, Emilie-Claire Barlow, a contemporary jazz artist. In 1990, Jon Hendricks released "Freddie Freeloader," a vocalese rendition of the Miles Davis song, which featured Al Jarreau, George Benson, and Bobby McFerrin.

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.

Outside of jazz[edit]

Vocalese has also been used in genres of music apart from jazz. Examples include Annie Haslam's singing with Renaissance in "Mother Russia", "Prologue" and "Rajah Khan" (also from Prologue).

An example applied to classical music is Flanders and Swann's comedic Ill Wind, in which lyrics are set to the Rondo from Mozart's Horn Concerto No. 4

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