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The Standards: Singers, songs

The Standards: Singers, songs

The Great American Songbook contains nearly all the songs that have become standards throughout the last century. What is a standard? It is song of such perfection and potential that other songs and singers might be measured against it in the same way we measure one vintage wine against another. Both are near perfect; both are different and each improves our appreciation of the other.

So it is with Female Jazz Vocalists. Since the beginning of the 20th century, these women have done the songs of the American songbook and each of their jazz performances have given new meanings, new possibilities, new approaches to the song and to its presentation. These singers “inform” each other every time they sing and in doing so they create their own standards beyond the standards of the songbook. Their presentations, captured in recordings, become as orthodox as the songs themselves.

The talents of Female Jazz Vocalists start with range but are instantly modified by voice qualities and the characteristics of approach. Voices can be smoky or silky, rough or smooth, like ice or butter, the comparisons are as numerous as the singers. Their approach is shaped by the character of their voice, the depth of their understanding and the ways in which these are brought together in jazz. There is scat where syllables act like notes and there are times when the song is transposed melodically with complexity and nuance that takes it into the realm of high art. A female vocalist can bring to a jazz performance a flexibility of intention so that a lover’s lament can be turned into a song of smiles through an alteration of rhythm or pitch that seems as logical as the logic of the standard song.

It would seem at first that this sort of improvisation, this interaction of singer and song could only be found in the late night sessions of small groups where requirements of audience and commerce are minimal but this is a misunderstanding of the requirements music makes of the artists. Even with large back and audience, the Female Jazz Vocalist can do the exploration of the standard that jazz demands. There can be that flatted note or octave leap that transcends the orchestra or band, challenges the audience and reaches into the depth of the song.

Jazz is a music rarely tied to the page or even to the last performance. Pick a song and check the catalogue. Sometimes a Female Vocalist will several versions of the same song, each providing a different insight into the music, each taking us along in the joy of performance

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