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Guide for Jazz and Scat Vocalists: A Resource Revisited

by Jim Jirak, NWACDA Vocal Jazz R&S Chair

Previously, I reviewed a resource for jazz choir directors that originated from the realm of the instrumental jazz educator: Jazz Pedagogy, The Textbook We Never Had (Northwest Notes, September, 2007. See article below this one.)

The subject for this review is also tied to the instrumental jazz world, Denis DiBlasio's Guide for Jazz and Scat Vocalists. DiBlasio electrified audiences with his articulate, intelligent, and high-powered improvisations on the bari sax and flute while touring with the Maynard Ferguson band. But that musical electricity was multiplied exponentially when Denis set aside his instruments and sang his bountiful jazz improvisations into the microphone.

His scat solos were a direct reflection of his instrumental improvisations and those techniques are packaged in this fabulous little book and CD. Subtitled as a "Survival Manual for Aspiring Jazz Singers," this publication is all that and more. The book and companion CD can be used by all of your students, regardless of their music-reading ability or knowledge of jazz theory. The CD alone is worth the price.

The first track is entitled "Bad Scat" and you can lead your students in a meaningful discussion as to why this example is indeed "bad."

On the second track, you hear Denis scatting to the familiar melody of "Happy Birthday." Listen carefully to the wide variety of syllable choices and invite your students to hear the original melody throughout the improvisation.

Then invite them to trade syllables with Denis on track number three. It is an up-tempo swing example with the combo on the left channel and DiBlasio on the right. He moves quickly to very advanced scat syllables, but if there is one technique our students need it is scat syllable articulation and Denis will open their ears to the possibilities.

There are 20 tracks on the CD and the last 10 are exactly what you would hear on most play-along tracks. However, on the left channel is a recurring tonic tone played electronically at strategic intervals. Not only does this tone remind the practicing scat singer of the tonic, but it also serves to signal the form of the musical example. Of course, you can turn down the left channel, but one of the scariest aspects of jazz improvisation is losing your place in the form and your students might welcome this aid at first.

Much of the book itself is oriented toward the vocal soloist who is preparing to sing with instrumentalists. There is a brief section which defines terms used "on the gig," followed by instructions on preparing a lead sheet for the players. A sample lead sheet is provided. The book and CD follow each other from this point, except there are four pages of jazz chord voicings between example one and two!

This material would be recommended for our most diligent students, but the auditory learner will probably skip this step. That said, there is a page of preparatory exercises that lead the aspiring singing musician through scales and triads; including major, minor, and dominant seventh tonalities. Just add syllables.

There is also a valuable list of songs appropriate for beginners, advice on memorizing chords and scales to any song, and a list of interval mnemonics to help the young performer remember how their song begins. Because this is a Jamey Aebersold Jazz publication, there are many similarities to the Aebersold Play-A-Longs. But that's a good thing.

From the beginning improviser to the most advanced student, there is something for everyone in this little gem. Most importantly, it is a bridge between the instrumental and vocal aspects of jazz improvisation using both printed notation and excellent auditory examples. I recommend you go to www.jazzbooks.com and order this valuable resource. The catalogue number is SCAT and the price is still $9.95!

Jazz Pedagogy, The Textbook We Never Had
Jim Jirak, R & S Chair for Jazz Music, reviews book by Dunscomb and Hill

Submitted August 6, 2007, 2:27 p.m.

If you are like me, classes and textbooks for jazz pedagogy were rare or nonexistent during your undergraduate training.  But now there are many more resources for the jazz educator than ever before, and you should consider adding Jazz Pedagogy, The Jazz Educator's Handbook and Resource Guide to your library.

Written by J. Richard Dunscomb and Dr. Willie L. Hill, Jr., this 394-page book comes complete with a DVD and a chapter devoted to vocal jazz!  The vocal jazz chapter was written by, none other than Jennifer Shelton Barnes.

Although only ten pages, this chapter has lots of good information for the vocal jazz ensemble director including a director's checklist, listening lists of jazz artists (both vocal and instrumental), and vocal jazz resources listing books, web sites, and jazz vocal camps for you and your students.  (Unfortunately, the Soundsation camp isn't on the list.) Jennifer's chapter also provides a short section on amplification and a page of valuable rehearsal techniques for you and your vocal jazz ensemble.

The strength of the chapter is Jennifer's emphasis on listening along with some tips on scat-singing and the importance of the lyric.  I  especially like her discussion of effective scat syllables and her step-by-step approach on how to learn a song in order to improvise over it.

But, there is much more useful information for you in this book.  It comes with a three-hour DVD where you can watch Willie Hill work on improvisation skills with a student jazz combo. 

You'll be pleasantly surprised to find how singing is an integral part of his teaching method. 

Part of the DVD is devoted to rhythm section techniques, however much of that discussion deals with the role of each player and setup of the rhythm section.  There is a lack of specific information on how to train your rhythm section players, but you'll find much more information on piano, bass, drums, and guitar in the book itself.  The DVD also documents live rehearsals of junior and senior high jazz bands led by the two main authors.  (You can also see Bob Mintzer work with a college big band.)  The audio examples on the DVD include a valuable listening demo of both vocal and instrumental articulation using the song Just Friends.

The book itself includes an historical jazz timeline, a chapter on using technology to teach jazz, a resource guide, and a glossary.  You also might be interested in the sections on ensemble scheduling challenges and budgeting.  I feel there is much to be learned from the chapters on improvisation, especially as singers peering into the instrumental world.

You'll become more familiar with how music theory applies to jazz education and you'll probably pick up some jazz terms along the way.

Dr. John Kuzmich Jr. reviewed this text and DVD in the March/April, 2003 issue of the Jazz Education Journal (p. 79), and he states, "This book can and will eliminate the barriers of teaching jazz in the public schools."  A 2002 Warner Bros. Publication, this $60.00 book deserves a place in your library especially if it is one of the textbooks you never had.

Jim Jirak
NW Division ACDA
Vocal Jazz R&S Chair


Jim Jirak