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Classic Jazz Artists: Indubitable Singers

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August, 2014 byAlma Abell

It has never been easy to be a jazz singer. This is certainly true of those first men and women who stepped on the stage. These were classic jazz artists but many people chose to forget their contribution and focused overwhelmingly on the band. To some authorities, jazz was the music not the singer. In fact, they questioned the existence of a jazz singer at all. The exception perhaps, being Al Jolson (1886-1950) in his movie “The Jazz Singer,” which took a different and dramatic version of Jazz, Blues and popular music to the movies in 1927.

Big Band Vocalists/Classic Jazz Artists

While Jolson remained the favorite of the American public, he was not the only jazz singer around. Time saw the rise of an entire flotilla of men and women during the Big Band Era which combined with the Swing Era. This was the period from the 1920s to the end of the Second World War. It saw the rise and fall of many major classic jazz artists including:

*Frank Sinatra (1915-1998)*Billie Holiday (1915-1959)*Ella Fitzgerald (1917-1996)*Helen Forrest (1917-1999)*Dean Martin (1917-1995)*Joe Williams (1918-1999)*Anita O’Day (1919-2006)*Nat King Cole (1919-1965)*Peggy Lee (1920-2002)*Kitty Kallen (1922 -)*Sarah Vaughan (1924-1990)*Doris Day (1924 -)*Mel Tormé (1925-1999)

Some are rarely mentioned in outside of jazz music circles these days. This includes Helen Forrest who was well known during her era as being the girl singer for three of the most famous and recognizable bands of the period: Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman and Harry James. Her performance and acceptance by all three big bands of the time earned her the appellation of “the voice of the name bands.”

These jazz artists worked hard at what they did. They toured for extended periods of time. Many became popular singers for the period, although some since have been downgraded to popular singers e.g. Nat King Cole, Doris Day and Dean Martin.

Death of an EraAfter World War Two Jazz evolved and the Bid Bands petered out. There were revivals but the focus in the music was on exploration of jazz tempos. The music became frantic at times and wandered off into the stratosphere with the works of Mikes Davis and John Coltrane. Classic jazz artists – both men and women also took new paths. Some explored the realms of popular music while others began to experiment with their voices in other ways.

While the ranks of jazz singers were on the decline during the 1970s and 1980s, they have since rebounded. Today, while only a few can consider themselves classic jazz artists, many follow in the old tradition. It may not be Big band or Swing, but they touch on it. Some, such as Sylvia Brooks and Diane Krall are worth noting for their repertoire that sometimes recalls the past glory of the classic jazz singers.

Sometimes titled “Jazz Noir” Sylvia Brooks takes to the stage with a torch in her voice. Like many of her contemporaries, Sylvia Brooks has learned well from the Classic Jazz Artists. She is now taking the old, and making it, subtly, her own. To learn more about Sylvia and her music, visit