The ultimate guide article @ All About Jazz

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Jazz Singers: The Ultimate Guide
Scott Yanow
Brooch; 264 pages
ISBN: 0879308257
Backbeat Books
2008

My God, there are so many jazz singers out there. More than 700 at least, according to Scott Yanow, who gives himself the heavy task of cataloging them all. Jazz vocals don’t lend themselves to immediate analysis, as do, say, football strategies that lead to a Super Bowl victory. The reason is, before you can say who the greatest jazz singers are, you have to define jazz vocals? And that’s the rub.

Yanow nods to the problem and comes up with a working definition from the start: to be a jazz singer, you first need to have an interesting voice and somehow contribute to the professional jazz lexicon. Vocal innovation is the key factor in jazz singing, but not necessarily, and Yanow is nominating Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett as candidates for inclusion.

Yanow goes on to note, however, that a great improvisation doesn’t necessarily make a great jazz singer: Chet Baker could be a hell of a scatter but wasn’t really a singer. Still, Baker made the cut. Norah Jones, the crown jewel of Blue Note Records, did not. Yanow explains why, and everything is very convincing.

These kinds of conversations take place throughout the book and give us the second reason to read it: namely, to see who did it and why. Yanow is careful in his explanations and generous to his subjects, even if some of his selections still ask the question, why this one and not that one? But this is not an official ranking and Yanow is clear when the opinion is his.

Jazz Singers: The Ultimate Guide is divided into six sections: The Greats, Today’s Next Generation, Singing Instrumentalists, Vocal Groups, Cinema Jazz Singers, and other books on jazz singers. The intro is chock-full of interesting background information, but could have omitted paragraphs about unqualified singers: How long on Super Bowl Sunday do we spend complaining about the quarterback who fumbled in the return game? our high school ?


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