Jazz singers: a series in thirteen episodes

This thirteen-hour series hosted by the late award-winning singer Al Jarreau illuminates all styles of jazz vocal art. From the Smithsonian and PRX

What is jazz singing? Is it the blues-inspired voice of a legendary singer like Billie Holiday? Or the spiritual church sound you hear from Mahalia Jackson? What about scat, bebop or ballads?

This thirteen-hour series highlights jazz vocal art of all styles. Listeners will hear the music and voices of Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Diana Krall, Abbey Lincoln, Kurt Elling and many more. Award-winning artist Al Jarreau hosts, taking listeners on a journey through the history of jazz singing – from the era of the Great American Songbook in the 1930s and 1940s, to contemporary jazz infused with pop and rock.

Originally produced by The Smithsonian in 2001, this series was repackaged by PRX with new narration by original producer Jacquie Gales Webb.

Broadcast on Saturdays from October 15 to December 3 from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. on 88.3 FM

October 15

Hour 1: Drenched in the blues

Over the years, the blues has influenced countless jazz singers. On the program, Big Joe Turner, Joe Williams, Lou Rawls, Billie Holiday, Etta Jones, LaVerne Butler and others speak and demonstrate blues-infused jazz vocals.

Hour 1: Soaked in the Blues

Hour 2: Saturday night function

Jazz was born in the midst of rejoicing and ribaldry. Jazz singing has, from the beginning, dealt with the more down to earth side of life. Artists such as Dakota Staton, Louis Jordan, OC Smith, Oscar Brown Jr. and Jon Hendricks let the good times roll

Time 2: Saturday evening function


October 22

Hour 3: Straight out of the church

From early spirituals to gospel to blues and jazz, singing as an expression of deep emotion has evolved, with the different strains blending into each other. This fusion of styles is found in singers such as Mahalia Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Dinah Washington, Ernestine Anderson, Little Jimmy Scott, Nancy Wilson, Marlena Shaw, Mary Stallings and Carla Cook. This program explores the “church sound” and spirituality of jazz singing.

Hour 4: What is jazz singing?

The talents of jazz singing legends Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Carmen McCrae and Sarah Vaughan help us understand improvisation, swing and phrasing. Different jazz singing styles are presented with help from Anita O’Day, Betty Carter, Joe Williams, Ernestine Anderson, Etta Jones, Abbey Lincoln, Dianne Reeves and others.

October 29

Hour 5: With a little help from my friends

Jazz singing is generally a very singular art, with individual artists meticulously refining their deeply personal styles and approaches. But, there is a tradition, almost a subculture within the art form, in which men and women, brothers and sisters, and every combination in between, have come together to sing. This show delves into tradition by exploring the music and influence of bands like the Boswell Sisters, the Mills Brothers, Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, The Hi Lo’s, Manhattan Transfer, Take 6 and Voicestra. Interviewees include Jon Hendricks, Bobby McFerrin, Gene Puerling, Annie Ross, Andy Bey and others.

Hour 6: Ballads

From the moving laments of Billie Holiday to the romantic ballads of Johnny Hartman, jazz singers have used their powers of interpretation to express the pleasure and anguish of love. What makes some singers such great love song performers? How are singers like Frank Sinatra and Carmen McRae able to touch our emotional cores? This show highlights ballad masters and their techniques: Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Carmen McRae, Sarah Vaughan, Johnny Hartman, Nat King Cole, Billy Eckstine, Bill Henderson, Joe Williams and Shirley Horn.


November 5

Hour 7: Scat, Bebop, Vocalese and voice as an instrument

With commentary from Louis Armstrong, Anita O’Day, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Mark Murphy and Kurt Elling, this program will trace the evolution of the intricate art of scat singing. Manhattan Transfer’s Jon Hendricks, Annie Ross and Janis Siegel are our guides to “vocalese” – the art of composing and performing vocal versions of famous instrumental jazz solos. Jazz composer Duke Ellington brilliantly used the qualities of the human voice only as an instrument. Also with Bobby McFerrin, Miles Griffith and Al Jarreau.

Hour 8: you are what you sing

The best jazz singers are constantly on the lookout for great songs, old and new. Artists such as Dee Dee Bridgewater, Dianne Reeves, Allan Harris, Kurt Elling, Mark Murphy, Anita O’Day and Billie Holiday talk about the music they choose, how it is performed and how it is recorded. The program examines how singers find material from the “Great American Songbook” and beyond.

November 12

Hour 9: It’s Our World… Sometimes

Jazz singing has always benefited from the innovations and sensibilities of women…from pioneers Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan to contemporary explorers like Casandra Wilson, Diane Reeves and Diana Krall. This program addresses the particular concerns of extraordinary women who have juggled family demands and battled gender discrimination while resolutely pursuing their artistic muse and mastering their craft. Interviewees include Abbey Lincoln, Anita O’Day, Nancy Wilson, Carol Sloane, Nnenna Freelon and others.

Hour 10: On the road and in the club

Jazz singers tell it like it really is. Singers of today and yesterday recount their experiences, joys, trials and tribulations performing this most intimate and revealing form of music in all types of venues, from bars and truck stops to concert hall. Nat King Cole, Lena Horne, OC Smith, Oscar Brown Jr., Louis Jordan, Nellie Lutcher and more share their stories.

November 26

Hour 11: Jazz singing and civil rights

This program examines jazz singing as a means of social protest. Artists such as Nnenna Freelon, Lena Horne, Abbey Lincoln, Louis Armstrong, Al Hibbler, Oscar Brown Jr., Ray Charles and Miles Griffith talk about songs with political or social messages and their experiences.

Hour 12: Beyond every shining sea

Jazz music is a Native American art form, but if you listen carefully you will hear elements from Africa, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean. In this program, jazz singers describe how they were nurtured by mutual exchange. Artists such as Dee Dee Bridgewater, Melba Joyce, Helen Merrill, Ernestine Anderson, Flora Purim, Sibongile Khumalo, Annie Ross, Dianne Reeves and Claudia Acuna share their music and their stories.

December 3

Hour 13: Today tomorrow forever?

Is jazz singing alive and thriving in this new century…brimming with established artists and young artists bringing diverse influences and nurturing styles to its shores? Or is it floundering and drifting…without the benefit of proper venues, industry support, or even up-and-coming singers who truly extend the tradition? We’ll examine these questions and more through the music and thoughts of singers like Kurt Elling, Carmen Lundy, Diana Krall, Madeline Eastman, Kevin Mahogany, Dianne Reeves and more.

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