Darrough, Galen Paul
University of Northern Colorado
Type of Resources
Place of Publication
University of Northern Colorado
The history of the vocal jazz ensemble began with popular groups such as The Boswell Sisters, The Pied Pipers, and The Four Freshman during the late 1920 to 1940s. This new vocal style brought about a unique aspect of the jazz idiom in that it expanded upon the vocal jazz style by creating tight harmonies within a group of vocalists that were often only heard within an instrumental jazz big band. Fast-forward to current groups like The New York Voices, The Real Group, The Swingle Singers, and Manhattan Transfer, and the vocal jazz ensemble has become a worldwide phenomenon. Vocal jazz arrangers and musicians such as Darmon Meader, Anders Edenroth, Kerry Marsh, Rosana Eckert, Kirby Shaw, the late Steve Zegree, and many others have taken the vocal jazz ensemble to a new level. Not only are these artists composing and arranging more contemporary styles of vocal jazz and revamping jazz standards, they are also the frontrunners of making the vocal jazz style accessible to choral conductors. Vocal jazz educators such as Steve Zegree, Paris Rutherford, and Kirby Shaw have all written resources for the choral director on the pedagogy of the vocal jazz style and ensemble in addition to providing vocal jazz workshops and camps. These jazz educators have also frequently spent their time as clinicians or guest conductors in various parts of the world. Organizations such as the Jazz Educators Network (JEN) and the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) have also provided resources within their own publications, websites, and yearly conferences on vocal jazz ensemble pedagogy, vocal pedagogy, improvisation, building better listeners, and stylistic elements within the vocal jazz style. Despite the continued growth of these educational resources and organizations, the vocal jazz ensemble remains uncharted territory for most choral conductors. Perhaps this is due to the limited amount of vocal jazz repertoire and ensemble pedagogy resources available. One reason for this lack of implementation may be related to the many misconceptions about the vocal jazz ensemble and the vocal technique required to perform such music. It has been often presumed that jazz singers are instructed to sing with an unsupported and non-resonant tone, a lack of breath support, and a straight-tone in all vocal jazz singing.1 Diana R. Spradling contests these claims, declaring that the vocal jazz style requires as much vocal technique in breath support and resonance as classical singing. She continues to explain how vibrato is not limited or taken away from the vocal jazz singer. It can be used within jazz singing and is more often applied as an ornament of expression.2 Another potential reason is that many choral conductors may be reluctant to familiarize themselves with the jazz idiom, perhaps feeling that they lack the experience to do so. As jazz and popular styles continue to be of interest to choral students, there is a need for more education and resources for the choral conductor. The results of this study have led to a comparison of traditional choral and vocal jazz pedagogy styles, while also providing an instructional resource that addresses techniques for bridging the gap between the two. Each participating conductor used and implemented the curriculum in a variety of ways. This allowed for a large range of evidence to be gathered, which supported the information within the transition chapter. This experience not only helped in the understanding of jazz knowledge for each conductor, but it also increased the level of comfort and ability to teach the vocal jazz style. 1 Noel Archambeault, “Come On-A My House: An Invitation to Vocal Jazz for Classical Singers,” The Choral Journal 46, no. 11 (May 2006):71-6. 2 Diana R. Spradling, Jazz Singing: Developing Artistry and Authenticity (Edmonds, WA: Sound Music Publication, 2007), 35-8.
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