The Art of Jazz Group Vocalese

Vocalese is a style of jazz singing in which words are set to an instrumental composition or improvisation. The style was developed by the great Eddie Jefferson (1917-1989) although he admitted that he was greatly influenced by drummer, trombonist and singer Leo Watson (1898-1950) who mixed both scat and vocalese. What’s the difference? While improvised singing, or scat as it is commonly known, uses nonsense syllables such as dee, bop, bah, doo wop,”  etc. in solosvocalese uses lyrics set pre-existing instrumental solos. Although the style was originally associated with solo singers , it soon became a stylistic component for some vocal groups. Lambert, Hendricks and Ross are probably the best known of these groups. Jon Hendricks wrote the lyrics for the melodies as well as the solos. Vocalese lyrics tend to be syllabic, i.e. one syllable for each note of music.

Below is their rendition of Horace Silver’s “Doodlin’,” as well as Horace Silver’s original verso, for reference. Also I have included the brilliant version by Sarah Vaughan. Listen for when the solo starts on the Silver version and then listen to the singers vocalese over that section.

The 4th video is a fantastic vocalese version of Miles Davis’s “Tutu,” by the Manhattan Transfer.

So what does this mean for my vocal group? We are going to try “Doodlin’ this term. The arrangement included in this post is only for the melody. If someone wants to tackle the vocalese for the solo section, that would be wonderful, but for now we can just work on the melody.

Lambert,Hendricks and Ross – Doodlin’, 1960

Horace Silver – “Doodlin'”

Sarah Vaughan – Doodlin’, 1958

Manhattan Transfer “Tutu,” 2004

doodlin 3part alto 2 final doodlin 3 part soprano doodlin 3 part alto 1 melody

(Our current repertoire : “Feelin’ Good,” “Somagwaza,” “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” “Iko-Iko.” We need to continue work on these songs, as well as individual solo pieces. A lot of fun work to do this term. I’m looking forward to hearing these songs take. See you hopefully Friday.)


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