Monday, April 16, 2012

Scat Arrives on the Scene...Giving Songs Flavor

On April 16 in Black History...

Don Redman
In 1924, Don Redman performed the first recorded scat vocals while a member of Fletcher Henderson's Orchestra. Scat singing is an improvised vocal instrumentation composed of nonsense syllables. Don Redman scatted a few bars of "My Papa Doesn't Two-Time No Time," recorded in New York by Columbia. Although Louis Armstrong is generally credited with having recorded the first scat vocals, Don Redman actually preceded him.

"Tony Jackson and myself were using scat for novelty back in 1906 and 1907 when Louis Armstrong was still in the orphan’s home" 
Jelly Roll Morton

Jelly Roll Morton

The technical definition (according to wikipedia) vocal jazz, scat singing is vocal improvisation with wordless vocables, nonsense (or is it?) syllables or without words at all. Scat singing gives singers the ability to sing improvised melodies and rhythms, to create the equivalent of an instrumental solo using their voice. Though scat singing is improvised, the melodic lines are often variations on scale. The deliberate choice of scat syllables also is a key element in vocal jazz improvisation. Syllable choice influences the pitch articulation, coloration, and resonance of the performance. Syllable choice also differentiated jazz singers' personal styles.

Jelly Roll Morton credited Joe Sims of Vicksburg, Mississippi as the creator of scat around the turn of the 20th century. Here is a transcription of a conversation between Alan Lomax and Jelly Roll Morton where Morton explains the definition and history of scat:
Lomax: Well, what about some more scat songs, that you used to sing way back then?
Morton: Oh, I'll sing you some scat songs. That was way before Louis Armstrong's time. By the way, scat is something that a lot of people don't understand, and they begin to believe that the first scat numbers was ever done, was done by one of my hometown boys, Louie Armstrong. But I must take the credit away, since I know better. The first man that ever did a scat number in history of this country was a man from Vicksburg, Mississippi, by the name of Joe Sims, an old comedian. And from that,Tony Jackson and myself, and several more grabbed it in New Orleans. And found it was pretty good for an introduction of a song.
Lomax: What does scat mean?
Morton: Scat doesn't mean anything but just something to give a song a flavor. For an instance we'll say...

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