Thursday, January 15, 2004

Thoughts on singers...

Jazz Times ran a cover article a few months ago about how singers were saving the jazz industry. Here's an excerpt:

Commercial success is an important feature when it comes to the dominant image we have of singers today, especially given the prominence of Diana Krall, Peter Cincotti and Norah Jones. As a point of friction, it may spend more time brewing behind the scenes than in plain view, but it occasionally bubbles to the surface. Referring to the rift between vocalists and instrumentalists that this perception has caused, Jimmy Scott is matter-of-fact. "The record companies did that," he says. "It's about the money." It's also presumed that singers have greater opportunities than their instrumental counterparts. As Kurt Elling has said on occasion, "I play the right instrument."

I've never really developed a taste for jazz singers. A distant respect yes, but they never seem to excite me in the way that an instrumentalist can. A few years ago, I saw Diana Krall in concert just when she was starting to make it big. She struck me as a very wooden performer, unable to draw energy from either the band, the music or the audience. Songwriting too, seems to be lacking... jazz singers are seemingly forever recycling the show tunes of the past. Yes, there is a place for the so-called "great American Songbook" but also a place for new songs... not the same damn love songs over and over!

The disc with a vocalist that I've enjoyed more than any other over the past few years was William Parker's Raining on the Moon which featured Neena Conquest on very June Tyson like vocals on titles like "James Baldwin to the Rescue" and the very beautiful "Song of Hope." This is what I find interesting, a challenging band and singer performing original compositions that do not pander to sappiness, but instead challenge the listener.


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