The Voices of Jazz

By Kellyn Vos, Ferris State University student

Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a series of blog posts for GRandJazzFest written by Ferris State University public relations students. Thank you, Ferris, for helping to build awareness of jazz, the great American music art form! Read about the author at the end of this post.

When people think about Jazz, they often think about the loud, upbeat and fun musical style that features classic instruments such as the trumpet, trombone, saxophone, clarinet, tuba, and drums. What they tend to forget are the incredible jazz vocalists that have changed the face of popular music and made jazz vocals an art form. Some of the greatest jazz vocalists were Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole, and Frank Sinatra, just to name a few.

Louis Armstrong was probably the most influential to vocal jazz because he introduced a form of singing that matched the sound and improvisation of jazz music which is known as scatting. He is also very well-known for his incredible trumpet and coronet performances.  Eleanora Harris, also known as Billie Holiday, had a unique vocal style that came from her love for jazz instrumentals. One of her most famous songs was “Strange Fruit” which sold over a million copies and went on to be a best seller. Nat King Cole was a leading jazz pianist who later added his smooth baritone voice to his composition and became well known in the vocal jazz world. Frank Sinatra has one of the most well-known names in jazz due to his impressive career as a vocal jazz/swing performer and actor. Some of his most memorable songs were “Come Fly with Me” and “My Way.” These musicians were legendary and their influence on the jazz vocalists of today is inspirational.

Michael Buble is just one of the many contemporary singers that has been moved by the smooth and classic technique that is unique to jazz vocalists. His vocals resemble those of Frank Sinatra and he even performed a cover to Sinatra’s “Come Fly with Me” in 2004. Buble’s songs have inspired many new jazz vocalists and he has become one of the most prominent jazz vocalists of our time.

Typically, jazz festivals around the United States feature at least one jazz vocal musician. Last year, the GRandJazzFest featured two jazz vocalists. Walt Gutowski & The Bridge Street Band featured jazz vocalist Michelle Covington during their performance and the Grand Rapids Jazz Orchestra featured vocalist Edye Evans Hyde. The GRandJazzFest hopes to bring more vocalists to the festival this year.

Jazz vocalists bring a variety and sound that no other instrument can achieve. There are few people that realize that many of the great instrumental jazz artists also had amazing voices that contributed to this wonderful genre. The history of jazz can be portrayed beautifully through jazz vocals whether they are featured in a larger band or done by a solo artist.

Kellyn-VosKellyn Vos is a junior in the Public Relations program at Ferris State University. Her hobbies include singing, golfing, writing and socializing. “I love to help people and would someday like to work for a non-profit such as the Make a Wish Foundation or Habitat for Humanity. I have an outgoing personality and love to spend time with my friends and family,” she said.

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