SCAT SINGING


Scat singing is used in vocal jazz and is simply done by extemporizing with the voice, using words and syllables which are seemingly nonsense and gibberish. At other times, scat singing is achieved without the use of words at all. With scat singing, singers are able to improvise rhythms, tunes and melodies, producing a sound akin to a musical instrument simply with the use of their voice. Scatting has been employed by many a jazz singer, especially since the turn of the twentieth century, to spruce up and bring zest to a particular song.

Scat singing began to come into prominence in the early part of the twentieth century. Perhaps one of the most famous songs cited for scatting is Louis Armstrong’s version of “Heebie Jeebies”, recorded in 1926. In fact, many people believe that it was Louis Armstrong who first came about with the first song numbers employing scat. However, according to jazz singer Jelly Roll Morton, whose peak of fame was during the turn of the twentieth century, the credit of being the originator of scat singing should go to Joe Sims, an old funnyman from Vicksburg, Mississippi, who created scat singing in the early part of the twentieth century. Eventually, jazz singers such as Morton himself, Tony Jackson and various others, realizing that scat made for a good song introduction, took on scat singing and made it big in New Orleans, all as early as 1906.

There are several earlier examples of recordings of scat singing. A particular example would be “King of the Bungaloos,” which has ragtime scat choruses in it and which was sung by Gene Greene. Gene Green recorded this song as well as many others between 1911 and 1917, all with several bars of scat singing. Even performer Al Jonson did a few bars of scat vocals while singing “That Haunting Melody” in 1911. In 1917, Gene Green scatted part of “From Here to Shanghai” in ersatz Chinese. Furthermore, in 1924, singer Gene Rodemich sang a few scat bars in “Scissor Grinder Joe” as well as “Some of These Days.”

Still another example would be the scat interlude of Cliff “Ukelele Ike” Edwards in the middle of “Old Fashioned Love,” recorded in 1923. Another citation would be “My Papa Doesn’t Two-Time No Time,” featuring scat singing by Don Redman and Fletcher Henderson, which came out in 1926 just five months ahead of Armstrong’s famous “Heebie Jeebies,” with his band called The Hot Five.

Nonetheless, it was this particular performance of Armstrong that was the defining moment for scat singing, serving to catapult it to establishment. Interestingly, legend has it that Armstrong did scat while recording “Heebie Jeebies” because he didn’t know the lyrics of the song, thinking that that particular portion would get slashed out of the recording in the end. For some reason, however, the entire song was released, and eventually turned out to be a bestselling record nationwide. Indeed, the scat techniques employed by Armstrong in “Heebie Jeebies” turned out to be a template for modern scat singing and influenced many a jazz singer and artist who followed in his footsteps.

 

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