The state of jazz vocals today (part two)

The type of emotional immediacy we encounter with Karrin Allyson or Diana Krall or Norah Jones is much harder to find among the younger male jazz singers. I don't blame the guys so much as the record execs behind them, who seem fixated on a certain formula in selecting and presenting their talent. Here's the recipe: Take pretty boy looks and a tickling-the-ivories piano style, add material written before 1950 with arrangements that sound like slightly jazzier versions of Lawrence Welk charts, spice it with lots of posturing, stylish clothes and a self-absorbed, narcissus-on-the-bandstand attitude. Voila, you have a record contract!

                 Jamie Cullum - Not Just Another Pretty Face
                                 photo by Jos L. Knaepen

How do we evaluate these retro-cool singers? Do Peter Cincotti, Michael Bublé, Matt Dusk, Tony DeSare and the others of this school have genuine talent? It's hard to tell. It's like trying to guess the quality of ingredients that went into a frozen TV dinner. There is so much packaging and processing here, that what's really inside is anyone's guess. The handlers have prettified these young gentlemen with such zeal, that we hardly get a sense of the real person underneath. Just as Harry Connick was dubbed the next Sinatra when he arrived on his scene -- perhaps before he had earned the title, but Connick eventually proved his talent and staying power -- these newer aspirants aim to be the next Connick. But a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy never looks good, and these singers (and their handlers) should find something original to call their own.

Even more to the point, the essence of jazz singing is an intimate connection with the song, and the super-slickness of the presentation here, the look-at-me-I-am-so-cool attitude, the retro stylings all conspire against these artists. Jazz singing of this sort is no longer about the music, but is merely a spur to the fantasy life of the listener. This fantasy life, moreover, has almost nothing to do with the music itself. The fans don't want to enter into the song -- frankly, they don't give a hoot about "Blue Moon" or the "Summer Wind" - they want to live the private life of the glamorous idol on stage. The audience is not thinking about a lost love, a broken heart; instead they are imagining what it would be like to shine under the spotlights like the gods from Olympus with a microphone in hand. And the pretty boy vocalist must live up to this responsibility; he is forced to strut his hour on the stage like an actor in a movie. Nothing wrong with all this, but it has little to do with the jazz singing tradition we inherited from Louis, Billie, Sarah and others.

The younger pups in the kennel would do well to study the examples of the most successful of the older generation. Bobby McFerrin must have infuriated his record label in the early days by his refusal to jump on any bandwagons and his steadfast avoidance of all the commercial trends of the day. He steered clear of fusion music, even when its corrupting influence was pervasive. He insisted on recording solo vocals—a recipe, it would seem, for career disaster. Or, even worse, he would make whole albums of songs without words, just McFerrin's quirky sounds and effects. (I would call this scat-singing, yet avoid the term simply because McFerrin has a style that is so different from any other scat singer on the planet. So he really defines his own category, ne c'est pas?) Yet McFerrin became the biggest selling jazz singer of his generation, and not only built a grand career, but became a living legend in the process. He would have thrown that all away if he had pursued the fusion-pop sap-path that everyone prodded him to follow. He would have been just one more packaged good in the cold fusion section of the market, and his career would have peaked faster than you could say "Eumir Deodato." How many of the younger singers are willing to take those same chances today? How many even have a personal vision that is not tainted by commercial interests? How many would force their own vision against the wishes of the handlers? How many major labels would back them in their decisions?

This is part two of "The State of Jazz Vocals Today" by Ted Gioia. For part one, click here.

See also the Jazz Vocals Playlist, with links to more than 60 related track reviews.

As long as we are talking about positive role models, let's not forget the oldest vocalist on our list -- Tony Bennett, who was derided by jazz fans for most of his career, scorned because his singing lacked the fashionable dose of irony that permeated the pop culture atmosphere for a forty year period. Bennett wore his heart on his sleeve, and always sang the old songs with total commitment—so much so that it was easy to make fun of the old codger. I remember Woody Allen building a very funny film, Broadway Danny Rose, around a pathetic Italian-American cabaret singer, seemingly based on Bennett, who was laughable because he took his paltry songs so seriously. But in Bennett's case, his integrity and total honesty with his music eventually paid off in a surprising way.

                                           Tony Bennett
                                     photo by Jos L. Knaepen

When Allen's movie came out, Bennett was in the midst of a fifteen year dry spell without a record on the charts. He was dropped by Columbia, and for a time had no record contract, no manager, and virtually no gigs outside of Las Vegas. But Bennett was rediscovered by the MTV generation in the 1990s—who were clearly fascinated by his "real-ness," by his ability to sing a love song without a net, without irony or sarcasm to deflect the emotions. The very qualities that had made Bennett the odd-man-out in his fifties, brought him back into the limelight in his seventies and eighties. In my mind, he is still the touchstone of emotional integrity in singing the jazz repertoire. When Bennett visited American Idol last year, tears came to his eyes when he talked about how to interpret the old standard "Smile." Yes, it's easy to ridicule all this, but Bennett's greatness is derived precisely by his willingness to court ridicule for taking these sentimental tunes so seriously. I ask you, how many of the younger generation feel the inner life of American song tradition with such immediacy?

One could make similar claims for Mark Murphy, who originally emerged on the scene as a hip stylist sliding over the surface of songs, but has gotten deeper and deeper into the music with each passing decade. I can't recall another jazz singer who has aged so well. His recent CD Once to Every Heart is almost a textbook in how to sing the standard repertoire. Listen to him tackle "Skylark" or "I'm Through With Love," and you will find that almost every phrase, every line has been artfully reconfigured to uncover the beating heart within the song. It is hard to believe that such an intense celebration of romantic love was recorded by an artist in his seventies.

Can any of the younger male jazz singers eventually live up to the standards set by towering senior citizens such as Tony Bennett, Mark Murphy or João Gilberto? Looking at the forty-and-under crowd, I am perhaps most impressed with Kurt Elling, a charismatic Chicago-based vocalist who recently joined the Concord label after a half dozen stylish releases for Blue Note. Elling has crafted an intense and deeply personal style, and is perhaps best described as a beat generation bard for the new millennium. Others of his generation may have a wider vocal range or surer intonation, but Elling trumps them all through the sheer creativity and forcefulness of his performances. While other male singers seem interested in dusting off old Sinatra big band charts and mimicking them note-for-note, Elling re-works and re-configures all of the old songs into surprising new forms.

                  Kurt Elling, photo by Jos L. Knaepen

When I heard Elling's twelve minute version of "My Foolish Heart" on his Live in Chicago CD, I was so struck by its ingenuity that I needed to go back and immediately listen to it again, then one more time, trying to figure out the twists and turns in the arrangement. Of course, Elling's longtime musical director and pianist Laurence Hobgood must be lauded as a major contributor to these expansive re-workings. But Elling is the man on stage bringing them to vibrant life. Perhaps the only weakness here is the sheer power of Elling's confident delivery, which seems to run counter to the lyric. One can hardly believe that this singer suffers from a foolish heart. But if Elling does not sing love songs in the conventional way, he more than makes up for it by the transcendence of his persona. He sounds like a man who has found a higher love than the kind written about in pop songs, some sort of zen insight into human relations, a Plato's Symposium squeezed into a jazz standard. This is no small achievement.

The only male singer of recent vintage who impresses me as much is British-born Jamie Cullum, who started his career in virtual obscurity—only 500 copies were made of his 1999 debut CD. (Original copies have sold for a thousand dollars on eBay.) But Cullum followed it up with his celebrated sophomore efforts, Pointless Nostalgic, in 2002. This release showed Cullum at a crossroads, apparently undecided between becoming another retro jazz singer resuscitating a 1950s-era big band sound, or tackling, fresher material. Half of the CD went each way, and listeners were forced to decide which was the real Cullum: the one who grooved on Radiohead songs and wrote clever contemporary patter songs, or the one who sang "I Can't Get Started" without bothering to update the passé 1936 lyrics?

But the title of the CD must have given some hint at the direction Cullum would take. His 2004 release Twentysomething and Catching Tales from 2005 find Cullum giving up the nostalgic as a pointless exercise. He has emerged as a man of his own times, and delivered two of the most creative jazz CDs of the new millennium. His songwriting is also top-notch, and judging by his work on "Twentysomething" and "Next Year, Baby," Cullum could put down the microphone and make a living as a tunesmith, sort of a modern-day Dave Frishberg. But we hope that day will never come. Even when he takes on a moldy oldie, such as "Singin' in the Rain" or "Fascinating Rhythm," Cullum brings it up-to-date in fresh, inspiring ways. I especially like the unpredictability—sometimes bordering on sheer craziness—of his on-stage demeanor. Cullum dazzles the listeners with a singing style that is wry, sly and shy by turns, adapting his delivery to the mood of the moment. I expect great things from him; but—truth to tell— he has already delivered some grand recordings.

As the examples of Jamie Cullum, Ian Shaw, Roberta Gambarini and others make clear, jazz singing is very much a global marketplace. Not too long ago, Americans had a lock on all the top spots in the polls, but now even the divas need to worry about offshore competition—no different than factory workers and customer service reps. I must (sheepishly) admit that I am delighted by this state of affairs. I have always driven a Detroit car, and never drink beer during the National Anthem, but when it comes to music, I relish the competition from foreign lands.

Complacent fans who aren't visiting the House on Un-American Vocalizing are missing out on some of the finest jazz singers. And don't think you will pick up a tell-tale foreign accent from Belgian singer David Linx or Dutch vocalists Wouter Hamel and Ilse Huizinga, or Hungarian Nikoletta Szőke, or their peers. They have listened to the same role models and mastered the same techniques as their counterparts at Berklee or in Brooklyn. Then again, the borders are collapsing these days, and all geographical labels merely relative. The aforementioned Hamel may hail from the Netherlands, but he has enjoyed his biggest success in the Japanese market, where his song "Breezy" reached #36 on the Tokio Hot 100 Chart. The talented Stacey Kent is sometimes described as a British jazz singer, but she was born in South Orange, New Jersey, and didn't move to England until after graduating from Sarah Lawrence. The singer Janita, on the other, may take pride as the great Finnish success story, but she has called New York her home base for more than a decade. Jann Klose is building his career from the Bronx, but he hails from Mannheim, Germany and grew up in Africa. These artists provide a constant reminder that the jazz world is always a free trade zone, and the barriers and tariffs exist only in our heads.

The biggest challenge to Yankee supremacy comes (no surprise) from Brazil. Almost exactly fifty years ago, João Gilberto walked into a recording studio in Rio and the airwaves have never been the same since. His bossa nova sound was fresh and different, and soon so widely imitated that it even became, in some situations, a cliché. But Brazilian music has constantly reinvented itself, every few years introducing some new genetic twist into the pop-jazz DNA of our time. If you haven't experienced Milton Nascimento, Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Ivan Lins, Djavan, Gal Costa, Chico Buarque, Jorge Ben . . . well, read no further. Go buy their music and settle in for a session of sonic bliss. You can catch up with more recent releases next year or next decade.

But if you already know basic Brazilian from A-to-(Tom)-Zé, do not despair. Brazil produces new musical talent even faster than it comes up with single-named soccer stars. Indeed, the talent seems to run so deep, that we are hardly surprised when a Brazilian musician such as Eliane Elias starts her career as a top-tier jazz pianist, and then switches to singing, and proves to almost equally good as a vocalist. If this were baseball, I would be muttering about steroids right now. Rio is like the Yankees, always holding on to more talent than they deserve. But how do you get a chemical edge in music? It must be some secret ingredient that they slip into caparinhas down there that gives the Brazil contingent that extra edge.

The lineage in Rio is often familiar, even if the artists are relatively new arrivals. Bebel Gilberto's father João is, as mentioned, the greatest Brazilian singer of recent memory (I bow in the direction of Copacabana whenever his name is mentioned), and her mother Miúcha is also a performer of note, as is her maternal uncle Chico Buarque. I recall Stan Getz singing Bebel's praises in private conversations back in the early 1980s, when she was in her early teens, but her singing remained a secret to most listeners until the tremendous success of her 2000 release Tanto Tempo, which sold more than one million copies. Bebel stays true to the family tradition, with light, whispery vocals reminiscent of her father's oh-so-low-key work. But she subtly updates the bossa sound with occasional (and understated) electronic effects. Although the smooth, slick ambiance of her recordings is appealing, at times the sound veers dangerously close to background music. Perhaps she is happy with her niche in the market—music to chill out to, so to speak—and certainly she must be pleased with the popularity she has achieved during the last several years; but I would love to hear Bebel in more challenging musical settings, perhaps fronting a band of hot young jazz lions, or working with more adventurous material. She is an appealing singer today, but she could be a great one in the future.

CéU, the attractive singer-and-eye-candy who shares Gilberto's US distributor (Six Degrees), has achieved an even more surprising commercial success. Not only has her eponymous CD been vended aggressively at Starbucks, but her photo has been placed on point-of-sale displays for the coffee chain's Brazilian Ipanema beans. Yes, other singers look like models, but CéU actually gets called in for the photo shoot. Of course, this makes me (the ever cynical reviewer) suspicious that the songs must be robusta, when the looks are so Arabica. But I am happy to report that CéU is a solid singer, and has collected some dynamite grooves for her CD. Her rhythm section is worth the price of admission alone.

Yet the more perspicuous fan will seek out some of the lesser known Brazilian talents, whose CDs never wake up and smell the coffee. Cássia Eller died in 2001, at the age of 39, so she just barely made it into our list of singers of the new millennium. But her Acústico CD ranks among the most potent Brazilian recordings of the last decade, and provides ample evidence that this fiery singer would have achieved crossover success in the US and other countries had she lived longer. Maria Rita is another star of the new generation, and boasts a lineage almost as dazzling as Bebel Gilberto's. Her mother was the late Elis Regina, a singer of legendary status in Brazil although with less name recognition in the US—but only because Regina died in 1982, before World Music had become such a powerful marketing category in the US. Maria Rita's father is pianist arranger Cesar Camargo Mariano and her brother is Pedro Mariano. This family tree alone is almost a guarantee of something spectacular, and Rita lives up to the expectations, proving once again that genetics trump music lessons six ways to Domingo. She is a lively, enchanting singer, and deserves her fair share of coffeehouse airplay.

But the most artistic jazz singer from Brazil is, hands down, Luciana Souza. While other vocalists rehash the same jazz standards, Souza has created an exciting repertoire of challenging new pieces, many of them drawing their lyrics from the writings of modern poets. Her 2000 release The Poems of Elizabeth Bishop and Other Songs was a work of the highest order, and set Souza apart from the crowd. But I am even more impressed with 2004 release Neruda, which presents Souza in invigorating settings of the great Chilean poet. The opening track captures a brilliant realization, in 7/4 time, of Neruda's poem "Casa" ("House")—a performance that I have listened to again and again with great delight—and the rest of the CD never disappoints. This is the type of unexpected, exciting music that once came from the jazz departments at the major labels, but today is the rare exception. Souza is proof positive that there are still untapped sounds out there for artists (and companies) willing to take some chances, and not get caught up in the MTV mind-set of evaluating music based on how it looks on a three minute video.

I have already gone through several dozen singers and eight thousand words, and I fear my readers' patience may be flagging. But I can't close my appraisal of the current state of jazz vocals, without giving the nod to a few more, lesser known singers, who might otherwise escape your notice. Sara Gazarek has a beautiful voice and though I am not a fan of everything she records, she has moments of greatness, especially when she sings ballads. On her Return to You CD, she takes a hokey Billy Joel song, "And So It Goes" and puts so much heart and soul into it that I am left breathless. Much the same goes for Claire Martin, who leaves me cold when she sings old standards, but grabs my attention when she attempts more contemporary material. With the right producer and supporting musicians, she could emerge as a major talent. Julia Dollison, in contrast, works wonders with the older songs, and makes me hope that readers will check out her self-produced CD Observatory—this a real undiscovered gem that deserves greater recognition. Melissa Stylianou also makes the standards sound shiny and new, and surprised me with her extraordinary working of "Them There Eyes" " a very silly song that Sylianou rebuilds and reconfigures into something special. And when will record labels give us more of Ann Dyer and Paula West and Eric Felten?. . . And I haven't even gotten to Jackie Ryan or Christine Capdeville or Jim Ferguson. Nnenna Freelon or Gretchen Lieberum or Otis Taylor. John Mayer or Kate McGary or Carmen Lundy. Anna Maria Jopek or John Pizzarelli or Giacomo Gates—who all deserve a hearing. But, honestly, I have to stop somewhere.

In short, jazz vocals are in good share in the new millennium. The sheer amount of music out there can be daunting (to critics and fans), and it doesn't help that radio airplay is almost non-existent for most of these artists. You won't learn about most of them unless someone tells you what's cookin'. (Yep, you can thank me in an email.) Moreover, the conflict between trends and traditions makes for a confusing landscape. But confusion is good. It is a sign of creative ferment. Some day, jazz singing might become like opera —a dying tradition where celebration of the past overwhelm newer efforts. When that happens, the confusion disappears and so do the surprises. But for the time being, the patient is still breathing, and even threatens to give us a good kick now and again. Who would have thought we would survive the 90s—when we lost Ella, Sarah, Carmen, Frank, and so many other greats? No, my friends, the Golden Age is not yet over. You just need to look beyond the glossy photos on the CD covers.


February 18, 2008 · 23 comments

  • 1 Ralph A. Miriello // Feb 18, 2008 at 07:32 PM
    Nice coverage of the seemingly endless array of vocal talent that is out there for all of us to hear. Some singers whom you failed to mention and I think deserves noting is Al Jarreaux and the late Jon Lucien. Jarreaux for his uniquely stylized delivery and Lucien for his lush Johnny Hartman-like voice on ballads. I must take exception to one statement you made. You referred to fusion as being a corrupting influence. Corrupting on what? Certainly some of us, Miles Davis for one, found in fusion a path that could lead to some new musical directions. Whether this path ultimately proved to be a dead end is another matter open to some discussion but corruptible,hardly! I trust those of us who have enjoyed the foray into fusion's depths would disagree.
  • 2 Argos // Feb 18, 2008 at 10:14 PM
    Billy Joel's 'And So It Goes' is not a "hokey" song. And anyone who still uses the word hokey is just,......well,.......hokey.
  • 3 Anna // Feb 19, 2008 at 11:10 AM
    Matt Dusk has already found an original style that is definately his own. His Back In Town CD has several new songs sung in his unique style and,yes, he has covered standards but what better versions of On The Street Where You Live and The Way You Look Tonight can be found? Not a photocopy by any means.
  • 4 Marie // Feb 19, 2008 at 04:28 PM
    Anna is right. Matt Dusk outstands the new crooners. He gives the lyrics all the importance it has, he's not just singing a story, he's living it. You understand what he sings, you feel the emotion as opposed to Bubl the pooner who's mumbling most of the time...
  • 5 Dave // Feb 19, 2008 at 05:50 PM
    I'd just like to state, how refreshing your article was. A delight to read, and not one that is stuck in the past extolling almost masonic mumblings of just the good old days of jazz. For the good old days of jazz really should be, today ! Expanding upon the masters of before, learning, evolving and using all forms of music to create todays new Jazz. We all appreciate where Jazz came from. But more emphasis should be put on where its going. Your paragraph on Jamie Cullum hits the nail on the head. Though even some of his most ardent fans agree his writing skills are still waiting to mature. We have seen some glimpses of what to expect. 21st Century kid and Seven days to change your life on his previous CD - Catching Tales , provide a modern day edge. Cullum excels Live. Anyone that gets the chance..Go !!...I assure you. You will not be disappointed. He is certainly not just a crooner, planted to look pretty.
  • 6 Johnathan // Feb 19, 2008 at 06:51 PM
    Jazz has always been about the interpretation of the song. Don't be quick to dismiss the vocals of the young ones... especially Buble and Dusk. Even thought they have recorded standards, both have had great success with new ORIGINAL material. Buble with HOME and Dusk with BACK IN TOWN. In regards to the standards, it is difficult to compare a 30 year old to a 50 year old as the young ones are often compared to the giants in their prime. Wait until they reach 50, then compare. Its like saying a 25 year old can run faster than a 2 year old. Sinatra was a completely different singer in his 30's than 50's. I hate to say it, but if we don't encourage the youth, this music will be lost forever. Don't be so quick to judge.
  • 7 Marie // Feb 20, 2008 at 12:09 AM
    Amen Jonathan...
  • 8 Karen // Feb 20, 2008 at 01:01 AM
    Each new artist mentioned above has proven themselves to be unique and talented enough to have success and a loyal fan base. You are trying to compare where comparisons cant be made. One can say that the new artists like Dusk and Buble have a certain 'old classic" feel and may compared to Sinatra and Bennett. But such classics can never be copied or outperformed. They are the originals and will always be. No matter if someone clones them with the same genes. Matt Dusk is a brillian talent and in my opinion has wonderful vocals, style, and charm as the older crooners did. He and the others mentioned above are not photocopies of times gone by but wonderful artists putting their own unique spin on the Jazz scene today. I applaud all of them for being compared to such greats of long ago. They have tough skin and deserve all the respect as the oldies did and still do.
  • 9 Carol // Feb 23, 2008 at 02:39 PM
    What an excelent article! I'll be as honest as I can. Jamie Cullum opened a lot of doors on my music culture. My parents' job promoting artists and organizing the biggest gigs and festivals in Portugal already allowed me to know artists that most of people of my age don't know. But Jamie led me to listen to other genres of music, to appreciate the classics in a complete refreshing and unique way. His voice has improved a lot, his gigs are more and more exciting and his works can always seem different, but showing somehow a link to the previous one. As about his writing skills, I have already experienced very good lyrics from him, although I feel he will develop more his writing. I feel that from Jamie I can always expect something new and I will certainly not feel disappointed. I always was curious about trying other artists here quoted, but I can't stand Michael Bubl. I respect his work, but if I want to listen to classics I'll go searching for the originals. To finish this 'Buble' issue, I can not believe that are still some journalists who compare Jamie Cullum to Michael Buble! As a Portuguese it is interesting to see how Brazilian music is seen, because those artists are big references in Portugal and very appreciated. I'll try the artists I never heard of.
  • 10 Maggie // Feb 24, 2008 at 11:54 PM
    Matt Dusk sounds like he's from Croatia or something . Fly me to the Moan ? and Jamie Cullum is kinda wierd looking to be honest and Peter Cincotti is not that great looking either . So your point about "pretty boys" is not very good . Talent is in the ear of the beholder
  • 11 Maggie // Feb 25, 2008 at 12:05 AM
    All of John Mayer's stuff sounds the same . I've heard some great covers on Youtube that are much better vocally.
  • 12 JamesonR // Feb 25, 2008 at 12:17 AM
    So if we should all listen to 'Your' music because it's the best , then tell us what you eat too and what car you drive. We need to know so that we can go out and all do the same . I strongly disagree with your main points. And i'm not the only one.
  • 13 ricky // Feb 26, 2008 at 12:13 AM
    amazing you could write so much on jazz vocalists and overlook KEVIN MAHOGANY!not even Kurt Elling can scat, swing or sing the blues like the gentle giant from kansas city.
  • 14 ramona // Mar 02, 2008 at 10:43 AM
    I love Jazz but ...."Scat" sounds like 'scat' to me . SCAT = scientific word for crap .
  • 15 heatherlovesjazz // Mar 02, 2008 at 10:52 AM
    American Idol auditioned 100,000 people and these 20 are the best they could come up with . Simon said that there are 3 good male singers and 3 good female singers out of the top 24 . uhhhhhhhhh what ? SHOULDN'T THERE BE LIKE 24 ? HELLO ? That sounds like a 25% success rate to me ? The judges should be fired ! When will America see that these are not the best singers in America ? What a joke
  • 16 Kathy // Mar 15, 2008 at 02:49 AM
    You guys should check out my friend on Youtube . Just look him up under the username "ROLENVI" although his name is Jake . He has a couple of videos up . He sings Jazz as well as other styles . He is one of the most 'Versatile' singers You'll ever hear - a virtue that is so lacking in many singers . Tell him I sent ya !
  • 17 Andrea // Mar 18, 2008 at 08:27 AM
    Fascinating article, Ted. I agree with you on just about all of it, including your assesment of Norah Jones, a woman who has so much soul and honesty in her voice that she simply can't sing a lyric, however 'hokey' (there's that word again), without sounding sincere. Time Out London gave her last album a sniffy review, completely missing what NJ does, and ending the write-up with: "for god's sake girl, give it some grit". To paraphrase Stephen Fry: telling Norah Jones to give it some grit is rather like telling Jane Austen to write more car chases. As for Michael Buble... Johnathan, you write: "Even thought they have recorded standards, both have had great success with new ORIGINAL material. Buble with HOME"... yes, but HOME isn't a jazz song, by any stretch of the imagination. It's a pop song, sung in a pop way, fair and square. And to my mind, even when Buble sings 'jazz songs', he's not doing them in a jazz *way*. That's what sorts the men from the boys, frankly, and what makes Kurt Elling a jazz singer, and Michael Buble not (look, even the Grammy judges agree with me on this one - Buble winning a non-jazz category). Speaking of who's jazz and who isn't: the only surprise I found in your article, Ted, was the inclusion of Katie Melua. Unfortunately she is lazily categorised with people like Jones and Krall in Britain, who bracket all these artists together as 'coffee table music' - but no one, even those who like her, would ever classify her as jazz. Her CDs don't sit in the jazz section of shops; no one in the UK describes her as a jazz singer.. So I'm curious as to why you included her? And one final point: I agree about Kate McGarry and John Mayer, both of whom I'm a big fan (although again, Mayer doesn't really fall into the jazz category) but for my money, one of the finest jazz musicians alive today is British singer/pianist Liane Carroll. Do check out her work, especially 'Billy No Mates', if you've never come across her. Like Elling, she has the ability to make you spontaneously burst into tears without even really knowing why. Now *that*'s jazz. (Or possibly: soul.)
  • 18 Andrea // Mar 18, 2008 at 08:47 AM
    oh and one final, final, note :-). regarding the packaging of these male singers, and who's to blame, and heatherlovesjazz's comments on Simon Cowell: all you need to know is that a) Simon Cowell's favourite song of all time is 'Mack The Knife' (huh?); and b) back in the mid '90s, Cowell seized upon the popularity of a couple of TV actors called Robson Green and Jerome Flynn, packaged them as 'Robson And Jerome' and a string of top ten hits - covers of old songs - ensued. Apparently the choice of songs was based upon whichever ones were popular in the burgeoning karaoke scene in British pubs. I have no doubt at all that record companies, lacking in imagination, simply want guaranteed money-spinners, and therefore not even 'the new Sinatra' but now 'the new Michael Buble' and 'the new Norah Jones'. It's also interesting that both Jones and Cullum took their own path after their jazzy debuts - no doubt against record company advice/pressure - and while I'd say hats off to them for doing that, I don't think they're half as successful, musically. (And in fact to that list, I'd also add Diana Krall's 'The Girl In The Other Room'.) Record companies may be hugely blinkered, but sometimes they're right about where an artist's talents really lie..?
  • 19 Scott Whitfield // Mar 26, 2008 at 07:14 PM
    Ted- You hit the nail on the head in so many ways. Ginger Berglund and I have already been hailed as the new Jackie and Roy, but we are hitting certain stumbling blocks, being over a "certain age." If you could hear Ginger's delivery of Tommy Wolf and Fran Landesmann's "Listen, Little Girl" on our new "Dreamsville" CD, you would include her among current singers who "lives the song, and does it with such honesty and immediacy." I'm proud to share the stage with her! Oh, and we're also writing our own songs as well. Keep up the insightful writing! THANK YOU!
  • 20 Christina M. // Apr 21, 2008 at 02:03 AM
    I have heard and seen many 'Singers' who are full of passion but lacking in talent . I really feel that there has to be a priority on talent . Passion can be synthesized or faked ..... but talent cannot be faked . Many of the most popular singers are simply very very talented (singing)actors .
  • 21 Annabella Wright // May 14, 2008 at 11:14 AM
    You forgot Madeleine Peroux! A stunning preformer I recently discovered.
  • 22 Lisa // Aug 15, 2008 at 07:12 PM
    Unfortunately, I find that with many who are called "jazz vocalists" carry this title in name only as they have extremely limited experience with the music, which is obviously reflected in their execution of song. This group would include those like Michael Buble and Matt Dusk. While these young men have instruments worth noting and they clearly love to sing, their performances lack an understanding of how to demonstrate the ability to "tell the story" (to quote Nancy Wilson and Tony Bennett), communicate a musical idea (ala Kurt Elling) or get inside of a song to show that they know what they are talking about (ala Shirley Horn). The fault, more than not, lies with the music industry, whose sole interest is in making a profit than the actual development of the artist. In addition, it will also lie with the aspiring artist who is more interested in becoming a "rock star" than understanding the art form of jazz through the vehicle of the voice. In order to achieve this kind of growth, one must be willing to let go of any conceived idea that they have "arrived" (because of a some published CD) and "pay your dues" just like the greats that came before them.
  • 23 Floyd Hutchinson // Dec 23, 2008 at 03:03 PM
    There are other singer who love the traditions of singing Standards . I would like to say I am one of them . I am looking for the oppurtunity to share this with other . I didnot see Kevin Mahogany, or Denzil Sinclair mentioned . It is because of singers like these that I started singing .It is hard for male singers. I have written to other male singers to share the unique world that is ours .I have recivied few responses . Jazz and singing are a very important part of my life . I really would love to talk and learn from the masters and I think too to share my gift . How does a male jazz singer of this era get exposure ? I am looking for info and have been working at paying my dues as a singer . Looking forward to hearing from you .