A Brief History of Jazz Vocal Groups (1980's-present)(considering your stylistic options)

The history of jazz music begins with the voice. Regardless of subsequent styles and varieties of approaches, the message of jazz music is the same: to communicate some individual reaction to life in that moment of time. To best learn how to communicate in any language, one must listen and model from the example of others. Thus, to inform our own concept of personality or to more authentically represent another's, we must be aware of how our ancestors communicated in their own day. This then becomes our working repertoire of approaches that we absorb and assimilate, and then becomes permanently integrated into our own aesthetic. The more ideas we absorb into our vocabulary, the more eclectic our possibilities! The following is a brief overview of trends and approaches in the language of jazz over the past 150 years:

  • Bobby McFerrin: Literally a one-man band, McFerrin has demonstrated what creative ideas can be generated from a single human body. Since his 1984 album, "The Voice" and later "Spontaneous Inventions," he has often performed with only a microphone on stage. His style incorporates his entire range of vocal pitches from the lowest bass notes (used to set a groove) to midrange conventional singing with lyrics to high range imitating accompanying instruments while also using various body percussion such as chest slapping, tongue clicking, etc. He will regularly and spontaneously interact with instrumentalists and the audience. He is known for his theme music for the "Cosby Show" as well as his 1988 No. 1 pop hit "Don't Worry, Be Happy."


  • Smooth/Pop Jazz: The late 70's-80's was an era strongly informed by digital technology and artificial/synthetic sounds. As soul music, power ballads, and easy listening became important contemporary styles, jazz was informed by this as well. Emerging from this era of digital production on record labels such as GRP (Grusin-Rosen Productions) were groups such as New York Voices, Rare Silk, and The Real Group.


  • The Underground: In 1990, director Spike Lee filmed the PBS special "Do it A Cappella" in which he organizes a concert of street groups performing contemporary a cappella music, and thus exposing a movement that had been developing under the radar of the mainstream music industry still preoccupied with global/highly produced acts. This was the dawning of the era of reality TV, amateur talents, alternative, grunge, and hip hop. Art was abandoning artifice and returning to its natural state: bare, naked voices. Many of the groups featured in the film would be launched into stardom: Rockapella, Take 6, Ladysmith Black Mombazo, while also reviving the career of The Persuasions.


  • Mainstream Pop Music: Spike Lee's film signaled a growing trend. In mainstream pop music, the industry would begin promoting a spate of wildly popular boy bands and girl groups as a new civic/community-oriented generation began reaching their teen years with a taste for unified dancing, homophonic vocal textures, and "bubble gum" sentimentality. These include names like Boys II Men, Backstreet Boys, N'Sync; Salt-N-Pepa, TLC, Destiny's Child, and the Spice Girls.


  • Contemporary Artists/ Amateur (Internet circulated): The effects of the internet on the music business has been profound, as there have now appeared a number of new vehicles of mass marketing that bypass the record companies--myspace, youtube, facebook, and interactive amateur talent contests like American Idol and Sing Off. As a result, careers have been launched by artists who have engineered and promoted their own material, and seemingly have been "plucked" from nowhere! Additionally, the smash TV show, Glee, represents a revived interest in group singing. Since the revival of a cappella group performance, it is now common to have a mouthdrummer and other instrumental sounds to create textures normally occupied by instruments. The industry continues to thrive with the popularity of a cappella groups: Toxic Audio, House Jacks, Straight, No Chaser, Glee.