by Michele Weir, author The Jazz Singer’s Handbook
Jazz is a creative, interactive art form that requires finely-tuned listening skills and a spirit of spontaneity. The ultimate goal: to communicate (specifically, to communicate emotion through the text). Great jazz performances are those where the artist has imprinted their own personal “stamp” on a song, making their rendition unique. The only singer that made their career from sounding like Ella Fitzgerald was Ella Fitzgerald. Ultimately, after listening to and studying the great jazz vocal masters, you should sound like you.
The focus of a jazz singer’s performance is more on the singer than on the song itself. While the integrity of the song is certainly an important factor, it’s the artist’s interpretation of the song that is the true essence of jazz.
Great jazz singers communicate with a sense of soulful honesty when they sing. Rather than acting like they feel the story of the song, they seem to really feel the story of the song; you believe them. Even if the setting or storyline of a given song is not true for them personally, they are still able to give an honest portrayal of the emotion behind the scenario.
Thus, the primary mode of communication for a jazz singer is the meaningful delivery of the text. This is number one on the list of artistic priorities! The lyrics to a song are like a story. We want the audience to listen to our story and really hear its message.