I’m a vocal jazz guy. As much time as I spend on other choral genres, it’s vocal jazz I always come back to when I need to refill my musical well.
Trouble is, vocal jazz is a bit of a stepchild in the choral music world. In the panorama of music made by singing, vocal jazz definitely lives on the periphery. Ironically, vocal jazz is also the stepchild of the jazz world: it’s on the periphery for JEN as well as ACDA.
I’m OK with being on a the periphery – it’s where interesting things tend to happen. And it certainly seems as if I’m called to the periphery, whether in musical genres, my degree in Latin, or even as a stay-at-home dad. It’s telling that I switched from PC to Mac devotion near the lowest point in Apple’s history.
What struck me the other day, though, is that choral music in general – the step-parent here – is a stepchild itself. I was listening to the Sirius classical music station on a Sunday morning and hearing some wonderful choral music: things like Barber’s “Agnus Dei” and Thompson’s “Choose Something Like a Star.” What hit me is that this was the “choral hour.” How often do you hear choral music outside of the choral hour on your classical station? About as often as you hear vocal jazz at an ACDA Conference outside of “jazz night”, I’d wager.
So what’s it like being the stepchild of a stepchild? It means you’re not on the general public’s radar. At all. Even among the portion of Americans who sing or used to sing, only a much smaller portion are familiar with the rarefied world of vocal jazz.
Which is frustrating as a fan. And liberating as a creator. I have so much freedom to experiment, create, and push boundaries.
That doesn’t mean I don’t want more people to know about my art. I’m with Benjamin Zander, who in his TED Talk
“[The music profession], they say ‘Three percent of the population likes classical music. If only we could move it to four percent, our problems would be over.’ I say, ‘How would you walk? How would you talk? How would you be? … If you thought, everybody loves classical music – they just haven’t found out about it yet.’ “
I’m happy that I have the freedom to create that comes from working in a stepchild genre, and at the same time consider it my mission to convince people that they love vocal jazz, they just haven’t found out about it yet.
Feel like sampling some vocal jazz? Start here