When Malindy Sings: Jazz Vocalists 1938-1961
When Malindy Sings Jazz Vocalists: 1938 -1961

The question of who is and who isn't a jazz singer is perplexing. It's easy enough to note those characteristics that separate the jazz singer from, say, the singer of lieder — the subtler changes in inflection, the greater rhythmic looseness, the more flexible tonal quality — but making the distinction between “jazz” and “popular” singing is trickier.

The problem is part of the identity crisis that jazz has been having for years. On the one hand, jazz is a “popular” music — it was nurtured in dance halls, it is performed in nightclubs, its repertoire has always been heavily stocked with the popular songs of the past and the present. On the other hand, it is a “serious” music, far more so than most popular music, much of which is ephemeral by nature. The jazz musician is committed to improvisation as a means of expression, and the musical context of that improvisation tends to be harmonically sophisticated and often extremely complex —which has nothing at all to do with the concept of the carefully crafted, mass-appeal-oriented popular song.

Nowhere is jazz's identity crisis more apparent than among vocalists, where the distinction between the music’s serious and popular sides often blurs completely. Louis Armstrong was a jazz singer, but is his recording of “Hello, Dolly” jazz? Young Armstrong's vocal technique had a profound influence on the style of young Bing Crosby; did this make Crosby a jazz singer? Sarah Vaughan's approach is exploratory, daring, and complex—she rarely sings a melody straight — and so is Betty Carter's. But Carter has practiced her art in relative obscurity, like many jazz musicians, while Vaughan has enjoyed enormous popular success. Does this make Sarah Vaughan less a jazz singer than Betty Carter? — Peter Keepnews, from the album liner notes

Various Artists

When Malindy Sings: Jazz Vocalists 1938-1961

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