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Vocalese is a style or musical genre of jazz singing wherein words are sung to melodies that were originally part of an all-instrumental composition or improvisation. Whereas scat singing uses improvised nonsense syllables, such as "bap ba dee dot bwee dee" in solos, vocalese uses lyrics, either improvised or written and set to pre-existing instrumental solos, sometimes in the form of a tribute to the original instrumentalist. The word "vocalese" is a play on the musical term "vocalise" and the suffix "-ese", meant to indicate a sort of language.
The inventor and most prolific practitioner of vocalese was Eddie Jefferson, whose rendition of Coleman Hawkins's "Body and Soul" became a hit on its own. Pioneers of vocalese include King Pleasure and Babs Gonzales, Jefferson's former dance partner. Pleasure first gained popularity singing Jefferson's vocalese classic "Moody's Mood for Love", based on a James Moody saxophone solo to "I'm in the Mood for Love".
The best-known practitioners and popularisers are probably Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, which group was made up of Jon Hendricks, Dave Lambert and Annie Ross. The term vocalese is believed to have been coined by jazz critic Leonard Feather to describe the first Lambert, Hendricks, & Ross album, Sing a Song of Basie. Ross's 1952 lyrics for the song "Twisted", a blues improvisation by saxophonist Wardell Gray, are considered a classic of the genre. Other performers known for vocalese include Bob Dorough, Giacomo Gates, Kurt Elling, Al Jarreau, Mark Murphy, Roger Miller, New York Voices, and The Manhattan Transfer, whose Grammy-winning version of Weather Report's "Birdland" featured lyrics by Jon Hendricks.
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