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Vocal Jazz Conference Session

 Hi everyone,
I don't know if this is the appropriate forum to post this in, but I am wondering what topics people are interested in learning about in vocal jazz...  I'm giving a session at a music educator conference, and want it to be relevant to the people who teach vocal jazz...  What areas would you like to see discussed at a conference?  
Thanks in advance for your help!
Replies (10): Threaded | Chronological
on February 3, 2010 6:22am
Things that are always good to have reinforced...
1.) sound system set up:  What do you need for a vocal jazz ensemble, care and maintenance.
2.) microphone technique: handling, mic checks, proximity issues, soloist v. background singer, etc.
3.) How do you get the student who is studying privately and learning a more "operatic" style, to buy into the "less is more" techniques that go with individually miked performances in general, and jazz repertoire specifically.
I think those are some of the most "intimidating" issues that may have directors shy away from establishing vocal jazz ensembles in their schools.
on February 3, 2010 7:13am
I would echo Scott's comment, but it depends on the purpose of your session. Beginning VJ or more advanced? On mic, or off? If it is for someone beginning a group, ways to get students improvising is always intimidating, also where to find good charts. Mic technique, history of the genre (always good to advocate for this art in an instrumental-dominated form!), working with instrumentalists, solo singing (improv on a melody, in the pocket vs. ahead or behind, syllable choice when scatting), the list goes on and on. And any one of these topics could be a session by itself. For me, at this point in the development of my group, working with the rhythm section would probably be most helpful.
on February 3, 2010 1:06pm
I'd like to hear someone talk about how to incorporate extended vocal techniques, like those you would use to create rhythm sounds, into vocal jazz.   I'm thinking specifically about a new album that I love, SonosSINGS.   Sonos is an L.A.-based group and its album came out in September.  It's all vocal, but you wouldn't necessarily know that, listening to the album.  The arranger (who also sings) uses an "octavizer" to lower his voice, and he gets some really neat percussion and bass effects with it.   This group can also be heard on archive editions of Radio360 (Oct., '09 I think) and NPR (last week).  I think adding vocal percussion into a school-aged group would be neat, and it would draw in some of those boys who wouldn't normally consider singing in a choir.
on February 4, 2010 2:11am
How to teach kids a minimalist approach to Louis Armstrong, for example, and not tell them to start out by being Ella Fitzgerald.  If one's scat sounds simply horrid, I have to think it is possible to study someone like Louis and come up with a tasteful addition to a solo.  It is not the students' fault if noone ever helped them listen objectively to their recorded solo and work on their scats.
James Clark McReynolds
on February 19, 2010 7:14am
My strong recommendation is to present a session on literature, charts. I continue to hear pretty darn good groups who are singing anything but vocal jazz. Vocal jazz requires: Interpretations, Spontineity, and Improvisation.
The following styles should be covered in all levels, advanced to beginning:
Swing; uptempo; easy; straight ahead;
Jazz Waltz
Ballads; a cappella and accompanied ballads, power ballads,
A cappella; Swing,  ballads, all styles
I would be more than happy to help with information in any area of vocal jazz.
Frank DeMiero
on February 25, 2010 2:40pm
Hello, Cynthia,
  In my experience it is near impossible to be relevant to people who teach vocal jazz in 'A' music session.   I bristle at the notion.  Vocal jazz sensibility, production(?), repertoire (in my not so humble oopinion) is akin to any of the other life filling musical genres one might choose to study.  I encourage and suppport you to teach what you know.  Further, teach what you believe is authentic.  Teach from the core of your spirit.  Although there seems to be growing interest in vocal jazz, I remind you and all others who might be venturing (or considering venturing) into this genre that it is a serious time honoured tradition.  It is NOT about fun.  It is about the heart of a people whose traditions (story telling in an aural tradition) are now in the hands (not necessarily the hearts) of many who hold it (use it) as an 'attraction' (to inflate, fatten and/or justify) their choral music programs.  Having a professional rhythm section is unnecessary if the one who teaches has made the time to study and understand the importance and place of the rhythm section.  All instrumentalists must understand that ACCOMPANYING (serving another) is the only issue (the primary directive) when accompanying vocalists.  I'm saddened when I read about 'techniques' for doing anything for a technique will almost always only serve well in the situation for which it is intended.  It would seem to me that it might be more important (lifesaving) for one to be willing (and able) to tap dance on the head of a pin.  I call it improvisation - the foundation of music from the beginning of time.   STOP using sound systems until singers have developed an understanding of what they're saying at a cellular level.  A sound system's only purpose is to support what's already there.  It hasn't the ability to make one sound better (whatever that means in real life).  Frank DeMiero has a wealth of knowledge (lived experience).  Contact him.  Lastly, Cynthia, I assure you that teaching is about 'serving'.  Be willing to serve. All will be well.  Blessings, Louise
on March 2, 2010 12:59am
Listen, listen, listen.  People say "Well I can't teach vocal jazz, I don't know anything about it."   Really the best way to learn about jazz is to listen, listen, listen.  Talk about what groups they should listen to.  Real Group, New York Voices, Kurt Elling, Take 6, Gold Company, Swingle Singers, Kings Singers, Bobby Mcferrin,  as well as the older generation greats like Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Carmen Mcrae, Louis Armstrong, and Sara Vaughan.  Also encourage them to listen to instrumentalists both old and contemporary.  Pat Metheny, Dave Holland, John Scofield, Chris Potter, Dave Brubeck, Charlie Parker, J.J. Johnson, Dizzy Gillespie, Arturo Sandoval, Chucho Valdes, Joshua Redman, Kenny Werner, ect....listen and listen until you have not only learned their solos but until you KNOW their solos.  Sing along with their solos, magically scat will begin to happen.  Give some ideas for some pieces to do.  The Real Group, Swingle Singers, New York Voices have a lot of pieces published by well known publishers.  Introduce them to UNC Jazz Press, introduce them to a "real book", once again encourage them to listen and search for new music.  You know your group better than anyone else, and adapting music to fit their needs can be the best thing for them.  Open the real book and just start playing through melodies.  Then write some simple harmonies to it, this is an excellent way to start.  Encourage directors to take their group to a jazz fesival....even if it's to just to...(uh oh...I'm gunna say it again!)...listen! :)  Introduce them to Jamey Aebersold, perhaps even teach a little bit of scat improvisation with the Jamey Aebersold CD's!  I did an extensive study on scat singing with my 5th and 6th graders with Jamey Aebersold and they LOVED it!  It was remarkable how well they can scat.  I went about teaching them to scat by having them "mumble" a story...and "mumble" conversation to one another.  Within 15 mins. they were fluently using multiple scat syllables.  Keep it simple, stick to an Aebersold that has pretty much straight 12 bar blues.  I used Jamey Aebersold, Nothin But Blues, "In the loop".  It has a white cover.  :)  I'm very happy to see you introducing other educators to the world of vocal jazz!  Good Luck and awesome work!!!  Some excellent responses on here!  :)      
on March 1, 2010 8:22pm
Hi, Phillip.  Right on about the importance of "LISTEN"!  I was in the USAF Band back when the chief arranger for the Airmen of Note was Sam Nestico, and I was one of a dozen people who begged Sam to teach an arranging class.  He wouldn't!  He just said, "open up your ears," and it was the best advice I've ever had!!
But I do have warn against a particular mind set that I've run into.  I don't know how widespread it is, but I associate it with people who come out of the Vocal Jazz program at Miami (Florida).
It's the mind set that all American popular music is a subset of Jazz, and it struck me as odd that you would include the Swingle Singers and the King's Singers in your list, but not the Four Freshmen or the Hi-Los.  People with that mind set include Bing Crosby as a "jazz" singer, as well as Louis Armstrong, and that's never made sense to me.
I think part of the trouble is that there are two approaches to jazz.  One is believing that any improvization is jazz, and the corollary that all jazz has to include improv.  But there's a very different approach, because there's a jazz STYLE that's separate from improv or scat or anything like it.  My vocal quartet, The Four Saints, was singing "vocal jazz" back in the early '60s before anyone had come up with the label, but it was only ONE of many styles that we sang in, and when we did it was very deliberate--and did NOT involve any scat.
As far as I'm aware, neither the Swingles nor the Kings ever did any scatting.  The Freshmen did, but on their instruments rather than their voices.  And the Hi-Los sometimes did what SOUNDED like improv, but was actually carefully written out, the same approach I took with my college vocal groups
So maybe before everyone jumps in about the details, it would be helpful to try to define exactly what we MEAN by "vocal jazz," and I suspect that there are a lot of different ideas out there that contradict one another.
All the best,
on March 2, 2010 3:46am
 Hi there Cynthia - 
I just did a presentation on vocal jazz at the Illinois All State music conference at the end of January.   Some of the things I talked about included:
- sort of a breakdown of the most typical types of extracurricular choral ensembles (a cappella, madrigal, swing choir, show choir) and showed how elements of all of those are used in vocal jazz groups
- comparison of sounds between vocal jazz ensembles and traditional choral ensembles.  I had two different snippets of two different versions of "Over the Rainbow" that we listened to, and then discussed
- basic techniques in improvisation (the idea of imitating instruments, idea of starting with short melodic/rhythmic motives and building off of those, syllables)
- historical value of teaching jazz to our students, and also the responsibility of music educators to expose students to all different types of music, not just what we like
- comparison of traditional choral octavos, vs. vocal jazz charts, as far as what they look like (pretty similar, really!), as well as rhythm section charts
- sources to help them choose good repertoire (SMP being the one I advocated for the most, of course Frank!), as well as UNC and even some of the regular choral publishers
- importance of listening to all types of jazz...instrumental, vocal, big band, vocal jazz ensemble, vocal solo...just everything, to get these different sounds in the ear
- vocal technique being no different than traditional choral singing...just using voice in a different way with different colors, as a necessity to tune crunchy chords, rather than just for the purpose of eliminating vibrato
I'd be more than happy to provide you with notes and such from my presentation if you think they'd be helpful!
on July 16, 2015 3:34pm
Dear Drew,
I was recently hired to teach Drama, Choir and Vocal Jazz at a local High School and I could really use some help with my preperation for the Fall. I saw your post from 2010 and I was wondering if you would be willing to share your notes with me. I realize that was five years ago so, if not, please excuse me. I have a copy of the CHORAL JOURNAL FROM JUNE/JULY 2015, which focussed on Vocal Jazz, which was very helpful. 
Is there anyhting you could offer in the direction of lesson planning or to fill in some of the topics you mentioned above?
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Community tags: Vocal jazz