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Vocalese is a style or genre of jazz singing wherein lyrics are written for melodies that were originally part of an all-instrumental composition or improvisation. Whereas scat singing uses improvised nonsense syllables in solos, vocalese uses lyrics, either improvised or set to pre-existing instrumental solos. The word "vocalese" is a play on the musical term "vocalise" and the suffix "-ese", meant to indicate a sort of private language.

Pioneers of vocalese include King Pleasure, Eddie Jefferson and Babs Gonzalez. The best-known practitioners are probably Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, which was made up of Jon Hendricks, Dave Lambert and Annie Ross. Ross's 1952 lyrics for the song "Twisted", a blues improvisation by saxophonist Wardell Gray, are considered a classic of the genre. Latter-day performers known for vocalese include Kurt Elling, Al Jarreau, and Manhattan Transfer.

Some performers, notably Slim Gaillard, Cab Calloway and Leo Watson, combine vocalese improvisations with scat singing.

Most vocalese lyrics are entirely syllabic, as opposed to melismatic. This may lead to the use of many words sung quickly in a given phrase, especially in the case of bebop.

See also


  • J. Bradford Robinson: "Vocalese". Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy. Accessed 25 Jun 05 (subscription access).

External links

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Music Sound, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

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