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Radha Thomas Throws the Spotlight on Vocalese This Week

The veteran jazz vocalist will perform songs by Chet Baker and add her own twist, along with the UNK Ensemble

Anurag Tagat Apr 18, 2019

Radha Thomas (center) with UNK. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

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Bengaluru-based singer-composer Radha Thomas has spent more than four decades fascinated by jazz, but there are some parts of the genre that she is still exploring in detail as a performer. For her show on April 20th at the Bangalore International Centre, Thomas will explore the lesser known style known as vocalese.

Vocalese uses poetry, lyrics and words over a soloist’s improvised parts. Think scat singing, but with words that add even more meaning to jazz. Thomas says, “It was a wonderful era for jazz and many of these lyrics reflected the lives of the soloists and what they did. From being very cool to travelling all over the world, the words gave life and resonance to the lives of the musicians.”

After performing a duo set called Two For The Road with pianist Aman Mahajan (on April 13th), UNK: The Radha Thomas Ensemble will perform a more vocalese-centric set. Thomas is fully aware that the style may not sit well with everyone. “It’s a complex set of syllables and rhythms that has to be sung fast. It’s great and challenging for a singer and maybe die hard jazz fans will love it but it’s not for everyone,” she says. The repertoire includes songs like “Body and Soul,” “Twisted” and “I’m in the Mood for Love” and lyrics that Thomas has penned for solos by legends like American trumpet player Chet Baker, including “My Funny Valentine” and “You Go To My Head.”

She’s written vocalese lyrics over six Baker solos so far and is working on six more. She adds about her band, “Rehearsals have been great fun. We have a brand new drummer Rohit P.S. and Haripriya Narasimhan who is the littlest, coolest girl bass player. Both of them are young and extremely talented. Besides them, and me and Aman, there’s our 100 percent genuine bebop guitar player Ramjee Chandran.”

While UNK performs often, Thomas is keen on picking back up on Two For The Road with Mahajan. Prior to their show last week, they hadn’t performed a duo set since 2015. She says, “It’s my favorite thing to do. We are seriously considering putting together a little tour right here in India soon. We have written many tunes together too so it’s really cool to be Two For The Road.”

Catch UNK: The Radha Thomas Ensemble at Bangalore International Centre, Bengaluru on April 20th. Event details here.

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