The Art of Vocalese
This week in my hometown of Edinburgh, the official programme for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe was launched, and this is the first year that I’ve ever put on a show so it’s been a really exciting week for me! Some downtime from promoting, writing charts etc was definitely required today though, so it seemed like the perfect time to sit down and write a few words about my life as a jazz singer.
Discovering the art of vocalese was a major landmark in my career. Up until that point I had only been listening to and learning standards from the Great American Songbook. Then someone introduced me to Twisted by Lambert, Hendricks and Ross and everything changed for me. I think my love of bebop probably started on that day too.
Vocalese is the art of putting lyrics to solos - in that case, Annie Ross (originally from Glasgow) had written lyrics to a tenor saxophone solo by Wardell Gray over his composition of the same name. Learning it made me realise there was so much more to singing jazz, and it really opened my ears and my mind to the many possibilities.
I started writing my own vocaleses a few years after, and still do so today. My most recent one was to Dexter Gordon’s solo on Until The Real Thing Comes Along from his 1962 album A Swingin’ Affair, and I’m currently working on Hank Mobley’s solo on If I Should Lose You from his Soul Station album.
One of the favourite parts of my practice routine is transcribing existing solos by jazz musicians, as this has several benefits - great ear training, helps to increase my language when improvising, and generally good for my chops! I use Transcribe for this. My favourite musicians to transcribe so far have been Chet Baker, Dexter Gordon, Hank Mobley and Bill Evans. And the occasional Charlie Parker solo for good measure!
Every so often I come across a solo that is so musical that it feels like an extension of the original melody, and these are the types of solos that I love to write lyrics to. When it comes to the nature of the lyrics, I generally try to make it an extension of the original song too.
As an example, I’ve uploaded my Dexter Gordon vocalese to Youtube which you can watch here, and my lyrics are below. Hope you enjoy it!
Until The Real Thing Comes Along - vocalese by Louise Dodds
How I wish I knew what you were thinking
For I can see a question right there in your eyes, that you’re trying to disguise
My darling don’t you know how well I know you now?
From everything we’ve been through
Every little up and down
And all of the good stuff nestled in between
So it’s amazing that you can’t see what it means that I am always standing by you
What will it take for you to recognise a love that is so true?
I’ve tried and I’ve tried and I’ve tried but I don’t know what else to do
When nothing that I have said or done’s got through to you
Give me a clue
A little something
Just not this ‘nothing’
You know for this to last we’re gonna have to work as two
Maybe you for you this is just not the real thing
Maybe deep inside you already feel like one day this will be over
I guess that’s something that I should consider
But you’ll have to be the one who leaves because I am going nowhere
I’m going nowhere
You’re who my heart has chosen so until you leave it broken
I’ll always love you, never desert you
Nothing now can change my mind
How I feel for you is just too divine
For me, the search is done
I’m pretty sure you’re the one
So I guess until the real thing comes a-callin’
I’m just gonna keep on fallin’
And I hope you’ll keep falling too