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Bebop Spoken There

Mundell Lowe: “...we also had to play for a floor show, which consisted of girls dancing--some of 'em were dressed, some of 'em were not so dressed.” – (Crescendo September 1974).

George Melly: “I think all clubs are like old tarts, sad under full lighting.” – (Slowing Down, Penguin Books 2005).

Today Tuesday December 1

Mosaic Jazz (Playing a celebration of American music) - Bell and Bucket, 37 Norfolk St, North Shields, Tyne and Wear NE30 1NQ. 1pm. Free.
Charles Gordon/Ken Hewitt Trio - Redwood Bar, Vermont Hotel, Newcastle. 7.30-10pm. Free.
Gavin Lee’s Dixieland Band - New Inn, 29 Church St., Durham. DH1 3DN. 9pm. Free.
Jam Session - Jazz Café, 25 Pink Lane, Newcastle NE1 5DW. 8pm. Free.
Customs House Big Band w. Ruth Lambert - All Saints Church, Cleadon, nr. Sunderland. 7pm.
Ralph Keeley (solo piano) - Cherry Tree Restaurant, 9 Osborne Rd., Jesmond, Newcastle NE2 2AE. 0191 2399924. 7.00pm.
Ian Bosworth and Friends - Dormans, Oxford Rd., Middlesbrough, TS5 5DT. 01642 823813. 9pm.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010


Picture this – you go to a jazz gig and a singer gets behind the mike and coolly sings one of the jazz standards.  You think, ‘quite good’, I could do that, after all, I learnt most of those songs at my mother’s knee!
And that, dear blog readers, was what I thought, until I tried it.
The first shock I got was to find that I didn’t actually know the words or tune, at least not precisely enough to sing with a band.  We hear these songs every day on the radio but don’t notice the fine details until we see the music.  And before you can improvise you must know the ‘correct’ version.  For instance, try singing a line like ‘regretting instead of forgetting with somebody else’ (Love Me or Leave Me), at speed, with all the right notes, without your tongue falling out.
I’d been used to singing traditional folk songs in folk clubs for many years before deciding to learn jazz singing as well.  The main difference is that I sang unaccompanied, so didn’t have to consider the needs of musicians.  Bands tend to want to know which key you’re singing in (it helps!) and the speed of your song.  I hadn’t had to consider this before, I simply opened my mouth and interpreted the song, within my vocal range.
So I’m still learning the etiquette of how to consult with a band.  Which player do you consult, the keyboard?  Probably not the drummer.  How do you negotiate the instrumentals, do they already have a favoured arrangement?  Can you interfere with that?  I love the sound of saxophones, can I request a solo from the sax?  This is all before I’ve broken into song, and I have to remember that a chorus is the whole song, and not what it means in a folk song.
I hadn’t used a microphone much before, which is a skill in itself.  I had to get used to holding the mike close enough to be heard, and remember not to turn my head away, which defeats the whole point of the exercise.  I had to remember not to stroke the mike, as all the audience would hear would be crackles.  I’ve yet to try the intimate style of singing with the mike very close up.  Will this sound sexy or just plain silly?  I suspect the latter in my case.  I’m short of stature so all mikes are set too high for me – adjustments needed.
At last I’m ready to begin, if I’ve checked with the band when to actually start - after 8 bars, 1 chorus, or whatever. When the song goes well it’s like sitting in an armchair being relaxed yet alert.  I’ll not go into what it’s like when it’s not so good, it would be too much information.  Most songs deserve to be sung well as there’s some wonderful material out there.  What about the songs of Cole Porter, such as the wisdom of It’s Alright With Me, or the humour of I Get a Kick out of You, or the images in You’re The Top?  Such simple language is used to express complex ideas, so that everyone can enjoy the songs.  And whilst singing you have the band to listen to, in fact it’s essential to listen otherwise you’re in deep trouble.  Make sure you shut up for their instrumental bits, enjoy their improvisations, and your own.  And it helps if you both finish at the same time!
It just remains for you to thank the right people and receive applause graciously.  So I’d like to end this piece by thanking my friends in the Bluejazz Voices and the group leader Lindsay Hannon, where I’ve been learning all this, and also the Bluejazz Quintet, ‘our’ band, at the Sage. And also Lance and Russell of Bebop Spoken Here and Jazz North East for their encouragement.  They encouraged me, so if I sing badly, it’s those two to blame. (Only joking!)
Ann Alexander.


  1. Ann, I thought you were great. Keep at it. (says the guy with the big guitar)

  2. I am so definitely going to try this. Safety with numbers in a choir? Or let it all out solo (being Judy Garland in my head).

  3. Hello Blue, Thanks for your kind comments. Keep on playing the big guitar that stands up!

    Sarah, good for you, I may see you at the Jazz singing. Ann


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Bebop Spoken Here -- Here, being the north-east of England -- centred in the blues heartland of Newcastle and reaching down to the Tees Delta and looking upwards to the Land of the Kilt.
Not a very original title, I know; not even an accurate one as my taste, whilst centred around the music of Bird and Diz, extends in many directions and I listen to everything from King Oliver to Chick Corea and beyond. Not forgetting the Great American Songbook the contents of which has provided the inspiration for much great jazz and quality popular singing for round about a century.
The idea of this blog is for you to share your thoughts and pass on your comments on discs, gigs, jazz - music in general. If you've been to a gig/concert or heard a CD that knocked you sideways please share your views with us. Tell us about your favourites, your memories, your dislikes.
Lance (Who wishes it to be known that he is not responsible for postings other than his own and that he's not always responsible for them.)
Contact: I look forward to hearing from you.

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