Scat Singing

One of jazz’s techniques always mesmerizes me is scat singing—an improvisation of nonsense syllables. Louis Armstrong is the father of scat and he invented the vocabulary singlehandedly. During a recording session, he dropped the music sheet so he mimicked the trumpet with his voice. On “Hotter Than That,” Pops improvises, “rip da du da du da / du-ya dad a dit dip bah!” He sings like he would play his trumpet—full of emotion, tone, and virtuosity.

If Satchmo was the pops of scat, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan were the mamas. Like Pops, they both could produce horn-like sounds with their vocals. While Ella was known for her nimble-voice, Sarah was famous for her gorgeous vibrato. Ella’s rendition of “Rockin’ in Rhythm” and Sarah’s “Sassy’s Blues” are perfect illustrations.

Recently, I was introduced to Martin Sexton from someone who shares my passion for jazz. Sexton’s scat improvisation on “13 Step Boogie” is eccentrically beautiful. His voice is an instrument in itself, and I love his cool, effortless style and versatile vocals range. What strikes me is that Sexton is not even a jazz singer, and yet he could move in and out of jazz so freely.

As for Vietnamese singers, the only one (I know of) that could scat is Tung Duong. On “Lua Mat Em,” the way he weaves his voice around the female background vocalist is stunning. As if he is a trumpet complementing her singing.

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