Thursday, May 22, 2008

Top Five Female Jazz Singers

I was talking to my beau about favorite singers the other night and I listed my top five: Billie Holiday, Carmen McRae, Dianne Reeves, Nancy Wilson, and Dinah Washington. I realize people outside of jazz lovers may not recognize some of these singers and how talented they are so I figured I'd do a quick rundown.

Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday, hands down is my idol. While her range was limited, her ability to emote a feeling was unsurpassed even as her voice deteriorated with substance abuse and age.

Billie Holiday, born Eleanora Fagan, was an American jazz singer and songwriter. She took the name Billie from her favorite actress Billie Dove. She received her nickname, Lady Day from her sometime collaborator Lester Young. Vocal style — strongly inspired by instrumentalists — pioneered a new way of manipulating wording and tempo, and also popularized a more personal and intimate approach to singing. She co-wrote songs, including jazz standards such as "God Bless the Child", "Don't Explain", and "Lady Sings the Blues".

Carmen McRae
Second to Billie, would be Carmen McRae. I actually discovered her in college as a music student. One of my professors played a performance by her on the Donahue show.

Though greatly influenced by Billie Holiday, Carmen also has a distinctive style of her own. Considered one of the most influential jazz vocalists and pianists of the 20th Century. She is memorable for her behind-the-beat phrasing and her ironic interpretations of song lyrics.

Dinah Washington

I also discovered Dinah Washington in college. I admire the fact that while she had a big voice, she had superb technique and control. Dinah Washington was a blues, R&B and jazz singer. Because of her strong voice and emotional singing, she is known as the Queen of the Blues. Despite dying at the early age of 39, Washington became one of the most influential vocalists of the twentieth century, credited among others as a major influence on Aretha Franklin. (My all time Soul idol)

Nancy Wilson
I wasn't always a fan until I heard her rendition of "In A Sentimental Mood". Wow! Heaven on the ears. Nancy Wilson is an American singer with seventy-plus albums, and three Grammy Awards so far in her career. She's been labeled a singer of blues, jazz, cabaret and pop; a "consummate actress"; and "the complete entertainer." The title she prefers, however, is song stylist. She has received many nicknames--"Sweet Nancy, The Baby" and the "Fancy Miss Nancy" are only two of them.

Dianne Reeves
Actually I was in love with the version of "In A Sentimental Mood" by Dianne Reeves before I heard Nancy's. Many love Ella for her level of improvisation but I love Dianne for that reason. Dianne Reeves is an American jazz singer, known more for her live performances than her albums. She is considered one of the most important contemporary jazz singers. She also sings rhythm and blues and world music.