Jazz means improvisation

Throughout its recent history, evolution and contemporary route, jazz music has been identified with improvisation. One point in which jazz differentiates against other musical idioms (that also share the element of improvisation) is that improvisation in jazz is not a static “snapshot” nor is a purpose. We could say that improvisation is the very language of jazz.

The jazz musician deals with a musical piece, that constitutes the “medium”, which he/she uses as a motivation in order to express himself/herself, to expand his/her boundaries and imagination, to take risks, to be creative and of course to get into a musical conversation with the other musicians. One could compare this situation to the performance of a rope walker, who keeps his balance, has been practicing with discipline on the technique but is not able to predict what exactly is gonna happen on that rope, during the show!

The musical score (usually a jazz standard) is a kind of “canvas”, on which the musician will almost recompose its components (phrasing the theme, reviewing its harmony, improvising its melody, changing its time signature, etc), will interact with the rest of the group and will improvise, having mastered the piece’s form, while respecting its current arrangement, style and context.

As with every other instrument, the voice shares the same field of action. The jazz singer must always be alert, being able to rhythmically move with freedom within the form of a piece (phrasing the theme), changing-improvising the melody, having the ears wide open while keeping a constant conversation with the other musicians and improvise with imagination and inventiveness, having the musical context and style of the piece, always in consideration.

In jazz singing, the voice is a musical instrument.
And in jazz music, the significance lies also on the “how”… not only on “what”.

Jazz is a common universal language, that throughout its history has proven its power to evolve, to bring musicians together (who have the unique ability to play and communicate musically, without even knowing each other beforehand!) and of course to unite civilizations from every part of the planet, under the inspirational force of continuous artistic creation.

Irini Konstantinidi
Swing feel and syncopation

At the very beginning of one’s jazz studies, swing feel is the first and most basic thing, which the student comes in contact with.
The musician learns what the swing feel is, analyzing the triplet eighths, in order to understand the origin and the certain “feel” that the swing eighth notes have and begins to further deepen into the concepts of the terms “time” and groove.
He/she practices on the “swing reading” of a score since the rhythmic values acquire another dimension and require different articulation, compared to reading a score of classical music. And of course all the above are being practiced within the singing process, as the actual experience is the only way to fully grasp the certain sense that “swing feel” has and to achieve singing “in the swinging groove”.

In order to be “solid” into the groove, one has to become fully aware of syncopation, to have a clear sense of the “downbeats” and “upbeats” within the bars, in order to be able to accent the upbeats, exactly where they are placed within the “pulse”, given that in the triplet eighth feel (swing feel) the note falling on the downbeat (ie the tied first two eighth notes of the triplet) lasts twice as long (compared to the note falling on the upbeat) and has to be legato… whereas the upbeat (which is the third eighth note of the triplet) is shorter (as it lasts the 1/3 of the beat) yet emphasized.

It is very important to practice the swing feel using the metronome (which will initially click all the beats of the measure, ie the four quarters in a 4/4 measure), that will ensure a steady pulse (beat), called “time”, within which the singer will have to “lay” the swing eighths, knowing well that the downbeats must be legato and the upbeats accented.
Simple though this may sound in theory, it is quite difficult to achieve, when it comes to action. And it can get even harder if the metronome is set to tick only on beats 2 and 4 and when the text is getting more demanding, ie if there is a more complicated rhythmic succession than just a simple row of eighth notes.

Therefore, when the singer starts phrasing, it is extremely important to accent the upbeats where they need to be emphasized (respecting the legato downbeats), so that there is no rhythmic “dirt” in the groove.
A continuous legato with too much laid-back feel, within which any attempt for accenting upbeats falls on the “cracks” of the groove, cannot certainly be considered as an interesting rhythmic phrasing!
Nor the interpretation of a jazz standard, as an exact quote of the original score (as if it was a classical piece) without any phrasing, swing feel and without taking into consideration the rules that syncopation imposes, can be regarded as jazz singing!
(At this point, you can read the article “Jazz means improvisation”.)

It is also very common for a musician/vocalist to be rushing the groove (maybe because of his/her excessive zeal to continuously create motivations for syncopation, ie. for accenting upbeats), by not playing the downbeats for as long as they should last, resulting in an un-grooving, stressful situation, that sounds like “hiccups” and bears no resemblance at all to the relaxed yet grooving swing feel.

There are many ways and number of exercises for practicing syncopation and swing feel. Just be patient and willing to deepen and study this seemingly very simple yet so essential first step in jazz music!
Because playing (especially swing, bebop or hard bop style) without swing feel, syncopation, jazz articulation and phrasing is rather a mockery than jazz playing at all.

Suggestion for studying – Exercises for syncopation from Ted Reed’s book “Syncopation for the modern drummer”.

Irini Konstantinidi
Use your voice as an improvising instrument

Jazz Singing is a priceless educational process, in which the singer is getting to know his/her voice, appreciates its multiple expressive potentials and learns to use it as a musical instrument. Meanwhile, he/she discovers the magic of jazz music and improvisation and enjoys the unique experience of artistic expression and freedom! 

Mastering vocal technique and improvisation skills in Jazz Singing.

Vocal technique: breath management and development of vocal tone, range and volume.

The mission is to accomplish a "powerful" vocal instrument (making the best of all its range, volume and tone), which will allow the singer to acquire all the musical, expressive and improvisational skills, in order to be able to perform with musicality, self-confidence, freedom and pure joy!
After all Jazz Singing means to be able to use your voice as a musical instrument! 

Jazz Singing: mastering jazz phrasing and improvisation.

The singer is getting familiar with the swing feel, learns how to manage legato and syncopation and starts to develop phrasing skills. He/she masters the jazz vocabulary and obtains his/her personal jazz articulation in vocal improvisation (scat singing). While cultivating the rhythmic variety and phrasal fluency, at the same time the singer reinforces his/her creativity, imagination and personal aesthetics, that will allow him/her to become self-confident and go deeper in any jazz style.

The final goal is to be able to improvise instantly within any given melody, over any harmonic progression or rhythmic context, to "fit in" the musical environment and to be in a constant "interplay" with the rest of the musicians.

Irini Konstantinidi