What if Vocal Jazz isn’t the right name. It’s certainly the established name for a wide-ranging genre of music, but I’m not sure it gives an accurate picture of the genre; what’s more, I fear it keeps new choral directors from really trying this genre.
Consider the top groups of the genre from the last 75 years:
The Swingle Singers
The Singers Unlimited
The Real Group
New York Voices
Of this list, I really think that only New York Voices would be truly comfortable with the mantle of vocal jazz as their genre. The rest avoid or avoided the name. And of those groups, only NYV uses regular vocal improvisation -which is probably the scariest component for choral conductors interested in trying vocal jazz.
So what’s a better name?
Contemporary Harmony Ensemble
Contemporary Vocal Ensemble
Popular Harmony Choir
Tight Harmony Choir
Extended Harmony Choir
American Classical Harmony Ensemble
Jazz-Inflected Chamber Choir
Arrangement-Centered Contemporary Choir
Ugh, all of these are terrible. So we’re stuck with vocal jazz. But since we’re stuck with it, let’s offload some of the baggage it carries, so we can more easily invite our choral colleagues to join us.
Vocal jazz offers our students so many valuable skills: ear training, advanced harmonic knowledge, vocal technique flexibility (and awareness), 20th Century music history, microphone technique, and more. We shouldn’t let the name keep choral conductors from exposing their students to this wonderful educational genre.