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Beginner jazz singer tips needed!
September 23, 2011 6:10 AM   Subscribe

Any songs/tips for a non-jazz singer performing at a jazz jam session?

I've a background in singing rock/folk song and don't have too many troubles singing these kind of songs if they're in my range (baritone/tenor), but I want to sing a jazz song - and well. I'm not too nervous about the singing, but I'd like to get it right.

The context is a jazz jam-session with proper musicians, and me not having done this kind of thing before.

Firstly: Any beginner jazz songs you'd recommend that most of the players will know?

Secondly: If I find a song, how do I determine what key I should sing it in.

Thirdly: How do I know when to begin singing when the players start playing?

Any more tips would be well received!
posted by letsgomendel to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Firstly: Any beginner jazz songs you'd recommend that most of the players will know?
Browse around here for anything you recognize.

Secondly: If I find a song, how do I determine what key I should sing it in.
Do you know your range? Listen to some Ella or Billie on youtube and try singing along - where are you comfortable? That should give you some sense of whether you can do a particular song in its original key.

Thirdly: How do I know when to begin singing when the players start playing?

Ask one of them (often piano) to give you a signal, like a nod. This is super common and not an onerous or strange request.
posted by prefpara at 7:45 AM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


1. Off the top of my head, you're sure to find something on this list that they all know or can fake.

Ain't Misbehavin'
Body and Soul
Do Nothin' Till You Hear from Me
Don't Get Around Much Anymore
Gee Baby, Aint I Good to You
I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good
I'm Beginning to See the Light
I've Got You Under My Skin
Lush life
Misty
My Funny Valentine
Route 66 (really too easy for jazz players)
Skylark
Stardust
Witchcraft

There are a lot of jazz vocal tunes that are transcriptions of instrumentals with lyrics added:
Stolen Moments (Oliver Nelson / Mark Murphy)
Take Five (Brubeck / Al Jarreau)
Twisted (Wardell Gray / Lambert Hendrix and Ross)
Spain (Chick Corea / Al Jarreau)

Or maybe something poppier?
Frank Sinatra: "Fly Me To The Moon", "The Way You Look Tonight"
Nat King Cole: "Nature Boy", "Mona Lisa", "Too Young","Unforgettable"
George Benson:"This Masquerade" (covering Leon Russell)
Willie Nelson: "Crazy" (Oh yeah? Look at those changes!)

2. Play it in the key it's in on the record. Apart from that, everybody likes "C"; horn players prefer the flat side of the circle of fifths; string players prefer the sharp side. See also 3 below.

3. you need to work this out with whoever leads the band on-stage. But leave some room for surprises -- this is jazz.

I wrote some stuff based on this being a performance, but upon re-reading, I see it's a jam session. Still:

3. you need to work this out with whoever leads the band. Some tunes start right in; others take an instrumental statement before the singing. Since it's a jam, why not start singing at the first head that you're ready? The players'll probably vamp until you do anyway. But if you wait too long, someone will start soloing.

If there's an instrumental break, work out how either the leader or the last soloist will cue you to come back in, and jump on it.

Be ready to come back in NOT at the head. At least be ready to jump in at the top of a bridge or chorus; better still, be prepared to comp vocally throughout, and ready to go into the lyrics _anywhere_.

Don't crowd the soloists, but don't let 'em crowd you either.

Leave some room for surprises -- this is jazz.

Put eyebrows on it.

= = =

Sounds like fun, hope it's everything you dreamed it would be.
 
posted by Herodios at 7:49 AM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Don't scat. Ever.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 9:18 AM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


A lot of jazz players have and use a "fake book" like the Real Book for lead sheets. They typically don't have lyrics, unfortunately, but most of them will have the tunes that Herodios lists (and more). Having lyric sheets for those should get you through your first session.

And whatever you do, don't call out Summertime.

If the session is before the thread timeout, let us know how it went.
posted by tommasz at 12:23 PM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Know the tune and the form. Don't come in in the middle the form unless the soloist hands it back to you.

Please don't go calling keys unless you're paying for the band, or maybe if it's a straight blues. Musicians are used to certain canonic keys for songs, and it's tough for many to transpose (say) Round Midnight on the fly.

Be polite and friendly, that'll go a long way. Remember that the other musicians have spent years learning to do well what you're going to be singing over.

Have fun!!
posted by lothar at 3:19 PM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Great advice guys. And thanks for the encouragement! It definitely goes a long way!

So, a couple of lead on questions from this (hope you don't mind me asking here and not googling on from this as I think it could be quite useful for people following this thread):

1. Re keys - if I've got a couple of versions of Autumn Leaves - say, Sinatra, Adderley and Evans - are they going to be in the same key on those records or will they be transposed into different keys?

2. What's a 'head' - is that the beginning an 'A' phrase?

Agreed on the leaving room for surprises and also the no scat sentiment. Urggh!
posted by letsgomendel at 5:18 PM on September 24, 2011


What's a head? The wickuhpeedia article is pretty good.

keys. . . Start here.
posted by Herodios at 7:19 PM on September 25, 2011


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