A Brief History of Jazz Vocal Groups(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:

  • Origins: The protocol of jazz can be traced to the West African Griot: the poet-historian who was designated to keep an oral history of the tribe or village and to entertain with stories, poems, songs, dances, etc.

  • Utility: In America, the griot tradition can be seen in both sacred and secular contexts. Emerging within the church was an antiphonal approach called gospel, often with the minister channeling the griot. Also, the blues tradition began in work songs (frequently coded with double entendre) and the intinerant musicians/ minstrel troupes.

  • Barbershop: Popular close harmony singing began in England and came to North America in the 19th century where it evolved with musical influence of the Negro Spirituals and men improvising in bars, parlors and barbershops.

  • Jazz Age: The 1920's witnessed the rise of the improvising, virtuoso soloist. Louis Armstrong was among the earliest trumpet kings who bridged from the collective improvisation of New Orleans Dixieland and pioneered the new approaches in improvising focusing solely on the individual. He also channeled his unrivaled instrumental technique into a new approach in improvised singing known as scat.

  • Crooning: The invention of the microphone enabled a quieter style of singing (previously singers employed the Al Jolson-like shouting style). The pretentious, sentimental, baritone style was used by such depression-era stars as Bing Crosby, Rudy Vallee and the mellow stylings of Billie Holiday.

  • Radio/Recording Industry: In the growing field of recording and radio, vocal groups began their successful rise (paralleling the ascent of big bands.) Among the most successful were The Mills Brothers, whose style also represented the barbershop revival in the late 1930's, and the Boswell Sisters. Both groups would frequently mimic instruments in their vocal performances.

  • Big Band Era: The golden age of Swing as the popular style was the World War II era. Group singing was approached with the same precision, sophistication, and closed-voicing style as a section in the big band. Vocal styling and instrumental virtuosity was best represented in the joyful sound of Ella Fitzgerald. The Andrews Sisters were the "Rosie the Riveter(s)" of jazz groups. And style and advancing harmonic invention was realized in The Mel-Tones and The Modernaires.