Why would you not? Teaching jazz to singers is just a natural thing for me. My kids were all on a first name basis with Ella, Louis, BB, Nat, Harry, Billie and Tony and…. I am leaving out so many! I don’t teach jazz because it’s a dying art though it is totally worth preserving. I am not gonna lie, it just makes me supper happy to see an eight or eleven year old totally fall in love with an Ella song or get so excited about an old Nat King Cole favorite. I love the teaching opportunity these standards give for improvisation and phrasing and originality.
Improvisation and Phrasing
One reason I love teaching jazz is that jazz songs have been sung by so many folks, kids don’t feel confined to certain licks or phrasing. They have to dig in and learn to express the lyrics themselves.
I always follow my jazz professor’s guide. Jim Ferguson always taught me that a great player or singer always knows exactly where the melody is. I make sure my singers know the melody and then teach them to explore the space in the song and leave the melody if and when it helps them communicate the phrase in a better or more interesting way. Learning to find a different note in the chord or to push and pull the phrasing is and invaluable technique that can’t be learned by copying someone else’s ad libs.
My forte is teaching singers to increase their range, gain control of those difficult areas in their passaggio (break), and to have incredible tone with the ease of humming their favorite tune. I am often working with singers to sing challenging songs that are just a little out of their comfort zone and hopefully make them comfortable and awesome. The great thing about a jazz standard is you can place the song in any key and not feel like you are a failure. I see lots of frustration when I tell a kid their favorite song is way out of their range. Sometime they are even more frustrated when I suggest changing the key. They want to learn the song in the ORIGINAL key. Jazz songs just jump out of that equation and give us some great material to work with. I can help them get down to the business of singing well instead of being stuck in the mire of comparison.
In general, jazz songs are accessible to kids. Not all for sure but Straighten Up and Fly Right, Orange-Colored Sky, Too Young for the Blues, Stars Fell on Alabama, Me, Myself and I, and Frim Fram Sauce are all fun favorites of my kids and of my singers. I can’t imagine a repertoire without them. On the other hand, try printing out and reading some of the lyrics of current pop songs with elementary school and middle school kids. It’s often uncomfortable and covers topics above my pay grade as a vocal coach!
Jazz standards are a staple of my family’s life soundtrack. I can’t imagine singing without them. Want to learn or listen to some jazz? Look up Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Billie Holiday, Harry Connick, Tony Bennett, Micheal Buble, Mel Torme… oh the list is long.