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Women’s Day Jazz Playlist

The list includes Annie Ross, Radha Thomas, Carmen McRae and more

Sunil Sampat Mar 06, 2020

American jazz singer Carmen McRae.

As another Women’s Day rolls along, I hope we have made progress since this day last year in applauding women for their massive achievements. Happy Women’s Day to all the ladies and to their supportive men.

This is a jazz playlist of women singing Vocalese which is the subtle art of setting lyrics to well known instrumental jazz solos (usually on trumpet and saxophone). It is a complicated art form within jazz as it involves vocal inflections to follow those created by brass instruments. Thus Vocalese is fairly rare to encounter in jazz. Invariably, Vocalese performers are highly skilled singers and are steeped in the finer points of jazz.

Here are a few examples of this exciting type of jazz singing, Vocalese. After hearing these songs, it might be interesting to try and hear the original instrumental originals on which the Vocalese is based.

Annie Ross — “Farmer’s Market”

Annie Ross, one-third of group Lambert, Hendricks & Ross does a great job of singing Art Farmer’s trumpet solo of this song.

Roberta Gambirini — “On The Sunny Side of the Street” 

This is a vocalese take from Dizzy Gillespie’s version of this jazz standard. On the instrumental piece the soloists are Sonny Stitt and Sonny Rollins on saxophones and Gillespie on trumpet. Gambirini sings each of their solos.

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Yolanda Bavan — “Shiny Stockings”

Yolanda Bavan is introduced quite descriptively by Jon Hendricks. Worth listening to this description. This is a remarkable performance from Bavan, not even a professional singer — actually an acting student in New York who filled the vacancy in the group when Annie Ross wasn’t available.

Esther Phillips — “Moody’s Mood for Love”

The original, an alto saxophone piece by James Moody is a fairly complicated tune. It was embellished with lyrics and has since become a popular jazz song. Worth visiting the original James Moody offering. Esther Phillips gives it a nice, bluesy treatment. There is another nice version of this song by King Pleasure.

Rare Silk – “Sugar”

The group comprises of Gaile Gillespie, Marylynn Gillespie, Barbara Reeves and Todd Buffa, a lesser known but excellent group which recorded several fine Vocalese albums. The original instrumental piece is composed and performed by Stanley Turrentine on the tenor saxophone.

Radha Thomas — “Autumn Leaves”

From a very recent album by Bengaluru-based Radha Thomas. The entire album is based on Chet Baker’s versions of jazz classics to which Thomas has written and sung her own lyrics.

Mimi Perrin – “Hot House”

Bebop is hard enough to play on instruments but Vocalese done at the frenzied tempo is perhaps an equally big challenge. This tune, composed by Dizzy is thrillingly rendered by Mimi Perrin and her French group. Dizzy’s accompaniment only adds to the enjoyment.

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Double Six of Paris – “Scrapple from the Apple”

As with “Hot House,” this composition by Charlie Parker is from mainstream bebop. This Vocalese version by The Double Six of Paris is a roller coaster ride!

Carmen McRae – “Take Five”

“Take Five” is perhaps the most popular jazz song of all time. Carmen McRae sets lyrics to the great composition (and solo) by alto saxophonist Paul Desmond from The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s magnum opus. It took a woman to put words to this jazz masterpiece!


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