There’s a jazz vocalist I like name Gretchen Parloto. I actually didn’t know she was that big, that the accolades around her were quite high, that her stylings are so laudable. But she’s good and she sings like. . . another instrument in the band somewhat. Funny, I heard her say in an interview that if she could croon like Chaka Kahn or Aretha she would. She said she tried it and it doesn’t sound pretty; no one would want to hear her (I laughed at this). So she does what she’s good at, and boy is she good at it. It’s an understated sound and singing so it may not be for everyone, but I wanted to mention her since I was listening to her recently.
The other reason I like her is that she teaches and does workshops. I think this is the greatest thing an artist can do. It’s that connective link that’s so important. There’s more. When she’s passing on what she does or trying to give a workshop, it’s very important to her that it’s more than just the music, more than just working on or learning about rhythm, phrasing, interpretation, and improvisation. She wants to drink tea, talk about who you are and why you’re doing what you’re doing. She wants to know where you are going. She wants to also work or tap into the emotional and spiritual side of music and release its potential to transform both the artist and those that are listening.
The other artist I’ve been listening to is Bobby McFerrin. I’m not sure what to say about him. I actually view him as a gift to the world and the type of artist that doesn’t come along very often. I have been recently rediscovering him, again. I’m especially amazed by him because he treats the voice in a similar way to the fashion an instrumentalists treats her instrument. Normally in music, we use the term singers to denote someone who sings but isn’t a musician. Vocalist is carries much more connotations of musicality with it. But in all honesty, even if you are a vocalist, you get by with less. You can practice less than a non-voice instrumentalist. You just learn your notes (way faster than it takes for instrumentalists to learn theirs which actually deals with physically moving the hands, feet, and body fast enough and with dexterity and agility in order to play it technically correct). Bobby sings songs that vocalists don’t normally do. For instance, my FIRST interaction with Bobby was to sing “Flight of the Bumblebee” for my senior recital in high school. I did it as a duet with a cellist, just as Bobby did it as a duet with Yo-yo Ma whom I love (Yo-yo is so willing to improvise and play with anyone to create beautiful music). Vocalists don’t sing Flight of the Bumblebee. It’s too. . .technical. It’s just a bit crazy to do that. But he did it, so I did it. Bobby will also sing arpeggiated accompaniment to a song like Ave Maria exploiting the range of the human male voice. No one did that before him (I haven’t really heard anyone do it after him). It’s hard to do that and play your voice like an instrumentalist but he did it and does it.
His intonation and accuracy, his ability to shift between his full-voice register and his falsetto and head voice at a moment’s notice is unparalleled. He jumps back and forth between them with ease and not only is able to do that with learned songs, but he can do it while improvising. This is quite . . . amazing. He is able to really go on and on and on improvising which is important for vocalists to learn—not to stop, keep going. Anyway, can you tell I like him and his work. Once Bobby came and did a workshop with my choir, and Bobby actually said “God is in the music.” Literally, God is in the music.
Improvisational duet - Lullaby of Birdland