I got rhythm, I got musi--well, not quite.
January 11, 2007 3:46 PM   Subscribe

I've got an audition for a vocal jazz group tomorrow afternoon and I need a alto-friendly jazz standard to sing.

I'm auditioning for a (probably second) alto spot in an SSAATB jazz group and I need to find something that sounds good in that range and shows it off. I've got good relative pitch, but I'm trying to avoid songs with easy-to-mangle melodies (like My Funny Valentine) I'm pretty familiar with the Great American Songbook stuff, but despite all the Sinatra and Connick on my iPod, I'm at a loss. Anyone got a some to suggest?
posted by thisjax to Media & Arts (24 answers total)
"When Sunny Gets Blue" has been done by a lot of great altos, has a fair range, a seemingly simple melody (but one that will hold some ornamentation, and some bending), and it's a Johnny Mercer classic.
posted by paulsc at 4:05 PM on January 11, 2007

How traditional? Diana Krall does some decent work in the high alto range, could be easily adapted down if needed. Some stuff is more trad than others, fer instance she does a pretty cool version of Tom Waits "Temptation". "Peel Me a Grape" is pretty good as well.

Going to go go look trough stuff, might make some other recommendations
posted by edgeways at 4:09 PM on January 11, 2007

Best answer: Are you looking for any particular tempo? Ballad? Mid-tempo? I'm an alto too so let me think...

Here's a couple:
"That's All" (Great song. Simple but nice.)
"Our Love Is Here to Stay" (nice as a medium swing Gershwin)
"You Don't Know What Love Is" (ballad)
I could go on... if you want more titles let me know.

Another thought... I don't know who you're auditioning for, but especially if it's for professionals I would stay away from the really overdone songs. There's actually an unwritten list of songs that people are sick to DEATH of hearing at auditions & jam sessions... Girl From Ipanema, Summertime, Someone to Watch Over Me, My Funny Valentine... there are so many amazing songs out there, it's good to pick one that everyone's heard but not everyone knows. You can earn extra respect points for that, especially if you do a nice job.
posted by miss lynnster at 4:22 PM on January 11, 2007

Oh, and to be honest due to the audition being so soon I'd stay away from Sunny... it's hard to nail, especially if you've never sung it before. It has a lot of lyrics to memorize and the melody line for the bridge ("People used to love to hear her laugh, see her smile, that's how she got her name...") takes a bit of practice at first. Just speaking for myself, it took me about a month of practice before I really felt comfortable performing that song.

Try to be easy on yourself and pick a song that's nice but doesn't have too many lyrics or too much complexity. Even a song like "Gee Baby Ain't I Good to You" would be good... it's short and gives you an opportunity to show some style and range without worrying that you've bitten off more than you can chew. If you want to sing for longer, you can just sing it twice through and improvise the melody or phrasing a little the second time.
posted by miss lynnster at 4:31 PM on January 11, 2007

I'm an alto, and a couple songs I like singing are "Cry Me a River" and "Honeysuckle Rose."
posted by ottereroticist at 4:44 PM on January 11, 2007

Strong second for "You Don't Know What Love Is." If you know it already, that is. If you don't, it's more valuable to go with something you know inside and out. For ensemble work they're going to be looking for ease, confidence and very solid pitch. What do you love? What do you sing in the shower...?
posted by lorimer at 4:46 PM on January 11, 2007

Perhaps you need to work a melody that has both intervalic and scalar topography. "Sunny Side of the Street" and "All of Me" will do in this regard for med/up major tunes. (though "All of Me" is considered easy).

To sing something modal,"Yesterdays" should do the trick, and it works at a variety of tempos.

For show-offness, do "Lush Life."

Good minor standards (both medium swing) include "Beautiful Love" and "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To."

If you want to stick with a blues (bird changes-medium up) then "Centerpiece" would be my choice as it is both hooky and tricky.

Well-known, but underappreciated is "I'll Remember April." It pedals on the A section, but when the ii-V-I's kick in on the B section--Bam!

Just don't do "Fever," "Orange Colored Sky" or any other talent show material.
posted by sourwookie at 4:58 PM on January 11, 2007

How about "Am I Blue"?
Lauren Bacall does a pretty awesome version of it in the movie To Have and Have Not.
Also, it's easy to sing.
posted by exceptinsects at 5:12 PM on January 11, 2007

If you don't know "Lush Life," that's another I wouldn't try to learn it in a day though. It can be an incredibly moving & gorgeous song (hard to believe Eckstine wrote it when he was 18!) but it can also become a stellar, flaming trainwreck if done half-assed. And I'd recommend "All of You" over "All of Me"... it's a better song. What's not to LOVE about these lyrics? So simple and yet soooo cool...

"I love the look of you, the lure of you,
the sweet of you, the pure of you

The eyes, the arms, and the mouth of you,
The east, west, north, and the south of you

I'd love to gain complete control of you,
handle even the heart and soul of you

So love at least a small percent of me do
`cause I love all of you."

posted by miss lynnster at 5:19 PM on January 11, 2007

The Look of Love (Dusty Springfield)
The Waters of March (Susannah McCorkle)
posted by 4ster at 5:21 PM on January 11, 2007

"... Try to be easy on yourself and pick a song that's nice but doesn't have too many lyrics or too much complexity. ..."
posted by miss lynnster at 7:31 PM EST on January 11

Jobim's One Note Samba fills that bill.

But personally, I think a performer that gets 98% of something at the limit of their skill and talent gets more points from many listeners than others with greater gifts or talent that play it safe on lesser material, particularly in an audition setting. Getting the gig is great, but getting remembered is the first step. Don't overreach badly, but don't be afraid to stretch.
posted by paulsc at 5:40 PM on January 11, 2007

If you do One Note Samba, just don't make the mistake of counting it out too fast. Your nervous tongue may twist on the "there's so many people who can talk & talk & talk & just say nothing or nearly nothing..." lyric. I've seen that happen & it's easy to avoid if you enunciate, are relaxed, & take it slowly.

I totally agree paulsc! When it comes down to it, you know your capabilities and your instrument. What might be good is to record yourself singing a few different songs and then play it back to see what you think before you choose which one to do. Follow your instincts...
posted by miss lynnster at 5:56 PM on January 11, 2007

Played at a medium samba tempo "One Note Samba" has a bridge that requires a good amount of articulation:

There's so many people who can talk and talk and talk and just say nothing, Or nearly nothing

articulated at:

one-ee-and-a-two-ee-and-a-one-ee-and-a-two- ee-and-a-nothing, or nearly nothing

Without swing triplets to "lazy it up" it can be brutal.
posted by sourwookie at 5:56 PM on January 11, 2007

miss lynnster: JINX!!
posted by sourwookie at 5:57 PM on January 11, 2007

zoinks! :)
posted by miss lynnster at 6:22 PM on January 11, 2007

Oh... on All of You, I forgot to put my favorite lyric! Instead of "the sweet of you, the pure of you" the alternate lyric is "I'd love to take a tour of you... the eyes, the nose, the mouth of you... the east west north and the SOUTH of you." That Cole Porter was so cheeky...
posted by miss lynnster at 6:27 PM on January 11, 2007

errr... arms, not nose. Okay. I need to stop. I'm getting everything wrong now.
posted by miss lynnster at 6:28 PM on January 11, 2007

I'd second You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To. Much of Cole Porter torch songs are highly alto-able, in fact.
posted by plinth at 7:56 PM on January 11, 2007

Best answer: "Stormy Weather"? I was thinking it might be too commonly used, but then again, nobody else has suggested it. Some nice big intervals can get you pretty low if you want to show off that end of your range.
posted by booksandlibretti at 10:29 PM on January 11, 2007

"The Waters of March" is way catchy, and not too complicated musically if you've got a good head for lyrics. Actually maybe too simple musically, unless you budget some time to ornament it. Most of Susannah McCorkle's stuff fits the range and qualifications you've described, actually. I'm a fan of her "Easy to Love" (with seldom-heard bonus verses!), and if you want a witty song "Quality Time" has the Frischberg touch.

From the show-tune side, "Not While I'm Around" might do the job too. Rob Dorn's version is keyed very high for a man, but really good for a second alto. And I recall Cleo Laine recorded that tune too—an alto's alto if ever there was one.

Finally, Eva Cassidy's repertoire tended to fit your specs. The first thing that comes to mind is "Wayfaring Stranger," which is intense and oh so soulful, but as I look over the track listing from Songbird, I think I could recommend most of them. Maybe not "Autumn Leaves," solely because it's been sung a zillion times. But "Fields of Gold" (even Sting liked her take on it), "Songbird," "I Know You by Heart," and even "Over the Rainbow" ... yes, by all means. ("Over the Rainbow" is vastly improved by Eva's alterations, particularly the omission of the sappy octave jump on the word 'somewhere'.)

Testimonial to the appeal of the Eva Cassidy songs: Their singalongability presented an insuperable temptation that led, in the end, to the unplanned, substantial recovery of my alto range fully nine years after it was nuked by adolescent testosterone poisoning. I'm a baritone, for pity's sake, and I could not resist.
posted by eritain at 2:00 AM on January 12, 2007

I know some of these aren't wholly 'standard' yet ... muahahahaa but it all depends on your accompanist knowing or being able to fake them.

Anyway, what I forgot to say before was, Tell us how it goes! The hive mind is rooting for you.
posted by eritain at 3:45 AM on January 12, 2007

I hate to say this, but I wouldn't recommend the Waters of March to anyone for an audition, a lot of the other songs would be SOOOO much better and easier. Thing about WAM is that it's singing an endless laundry list in effect. It takes a lot of skill to make it sound really interesting and melodic, and when people nail it it sounds effortless. It's not.

It is a looong, meditatively repetitive song & the bridge isn't obvious. I apologize in advance for this, but just scroll down:

A stick a stone
it's the end of the road,
it's the rest of the stump
it's a little alone
it's a sliver of glass,
it is life, it's the sun,
it is night ,it is death,
it's a trap, it's a gun.
the oak when it blooms,
a fox in the brush,
the knot in the wood,
the song of the thrush.
the wood of the wind,
a cliff, a fall,
a scratch, a lump,
it is nothing at all.
it's the wind blowing free.
it's the end of a slope.
it's a beam, it's a void,
it's a hunch, it's a hope.
and the riverbank talks.
of the water of march
it's the end of the strain,
it's the joy in your heart.
the foot, the ground,
the flesh, the bone,
the beat of the road,
a slingshot stone.
a fish, a flash,
a silvery glow,
a fight, a bet,
the range of the bow.
the bed of the well,
the end of the line,
the dismay in the face,
it's a loss, it's a find.
a spear, a spike,
a point, a nail,
a drip, a drop,
the end of the tale.
a truckload of bricks,
in the soft morning light,
the shot of a gun,
in the dead of the night.
a mile, a must,
a thrust, a bump.
it's a girl, it's a rhyme.
it's the cold, it's the mumps.
the plan of the house,
the body in bed,
the car that got stuck,
it's the mud, it's the mud.
a float, a drift,
a flight, a wing,
ahawk, a quail,
the promise of spring.
and the riverbanks talks.
of the waters of march.
it's the promise of life,
it's the joy in your heart,
a snake, a stick,
it is john, it is joe,
it's a thorn in your hand,
and a cut on your toe.
a point, a grain,
a bee, a bite,
a blink, a buzzard,
the sudden stroke of night.
a pin, a needle,
a sting, a pain,
a snail, a riddle,
a weep, a stain.
a pass in the mountains.
a horse, a mule,
in the distance the shelves.
rode three shadows of blue.
and the riverbank talks
of the promise of life
in your heart, in your heart
a stick, a stone,
the end of the load,
the rest of the stump,
a lonesome road.
a sliver of glass,
a life, the sun,
a night, a death,
the end of the run
and the riverbank talks
of the waters of march
it's the end of all strain
it's the joy in your heart

Moral of the story? I'd avoid this one.

GOOD LUCK!!!!! BREAK A LEG!!!!!!!!!

posted by miss lynnster at 8:51 AM on January 12, 2007

Response by poster: Well, hivemind, it went well-ish. Despite wanting to sing "Our Love Is Here To Stay", I chickened out and ended up doing "Where or When", which wasn't the best choice for an audition because it's not particularly melodic but heck, I could remember all the words and stayed on pitch without trouble. Regardless, I got in! Thanks for the suggestions, everyone.
posted by thisjax at 8:56 AM on January 12, 2007

CONGRATULATIONS! We're proud of you, thisjax. ;D
posted by miss lynnster at 9:10 AM on January 12, 2007

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