Whilst the earliest stars of jazz music were instrumentalists, it wasn’t long before jazz singers took centre stage at the front of the bandstand and became the stars of the day.
We’ve already published our big list of the best jazz vocalists of all time, but what about the specifically? In this article we’ve picked out 15 names – old and new – for you to check out, complete with videos.
Whilst not achieving the enduring fame of many singers on this list, ’s deep baritone can be heard on the 1963 album “ and ” – arguably one of the most fascinating vocal-saxophone sessions of all time and the only one that participated in.
His plain-yet-emotional tone sits perfectly alongside that of in a session that was reportedly made up of single-takes of each track.
The resulting 6-track release is enough to set Hartman’s place in history, alongside McCoy Tyner (piano), Jimmy Garrison (double bass) and Elvin Jones (drums) who were that day.
Hartman recorded into the late 70s before his death in 1983 and whilst none achieved the recognition of the Coltrane sessions, albums including The Voice That Is! (1963), I Love Everybody (1966) and I’ve Been There (1973) are recommended additions to any male vocal fan collection.
14. Anthony Strong
Hailed as “England’s new superstar” in his home country, British -pianist Anthony Strong’s swaggering vocals and swinging piano style are matched by an energy that have entertained audiences at his live shows around the world.
With an extensive touring history over the last 10 years, he’s played at festivals from The Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles to Shanghai Festival in the East.
His albums infuse small group with strings and big band, and a mix of repertoire which ranges from treatment of soul and Motown to standards and original songs.
“Real great music” – BB King
American has been performing for an unbelievable 70 years, with his first hit (“Because of You” in 1951) selling over 1 million copies.
In a fascinating career, he’s straddled and pop worlds, from his early days singing commercial hits, to his releases in the 2010’s with modern singers such as Lady Gaga, Amy Winehouse and Christina Aguilera.
But whilst his choice of repertoire has made him a household name outside the world, don’t underestimate the credentials of this NEA Master; there’s perhaps no one else out there who can swing as hard and phrase as well as as !
American (born 1932) was an eccentric artist who is perhaps the most underrated singers on this list.
He was a prolific musician whose extraordinary creativity and vocal technique can be heard on around 50 albums, from a discography which runs up until his death in 2015.
His style was born out of bebop (perhaps part of the reason he eluded commercial success) and won legions of fans.
Perhaps best remembered for his heart-wrenching ballads and extended technique, he was constantly experimenting, which led him to areas such as Brazilian music and acid .
Awards: Best Male Vocalist (Downbeat Magazine) four times between 1997-2001.
11. Al Jarreau
He might be best-known as an R&B or pop who could scat with the best. (his best selling album is Breakin’ Away), but Al Jarreau was a massively influential
Top of Downbeat Magazine’s ‘Best Male Vocalist‘ category every year between 1977 and 1983, he toured relentlessly and was nominated for Grammy’s in 3 separate genres.
Equally at home with smooth as hard-swinging , he has also succeeded in getting many mainstream music fans into – something which should certainly be applauded in our opinion!
who developed the art of (1926) was a groundbreaking vocalese.
With his comedic wit and distinctive vocal improvisations, his style combined bebop, scat singing, blues music, classical, folk and more.
His performing career covered 8+ decades until his death aged 96 and his considerable back catalogue includes recordings both as a sideman and bandleader.
Perhaps most famously, he was part of the group Lambert, Hendricks & Ross alongside Dave Lambert and Annie Ross
9. Cab Calloway
The oldest a in Harlem nightclubs. on this list, Cab Calloway was born in 1907, starting his career as
The son of a preacher, he gained fame for his wild stage performances and quickly became one of the most in-demand artists of the swing era.
The big band he led featured up-and-coming stars of the day including Ben Webster, Dizzy Gillespie and Milt Hinton.
Inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999, his 6-decade career got a boost in the 80s when he appeared as himself in a cameo for cult film The Blues Brothers.
Born in 1971 in California, today. ‘s deep, golden voice saw him achieve a rapid rise to success in his early 40s and he is now arguably the most famous male
Despite a lifetime of singing, it was two releases on American label Motema label in the early 2010s which brought him to critical acclaim and get signed up by Universal Records’ legendary Blue Note imprint.
His first album for Blue Note – Liquid Spirit – won Best Vocal at the 2014 Grammy Awards and achieved huge mainstream acclaim and pop chart success internationally.
has touted extensively in the years since, winning over bigger and bigger audiences with his soulful compositions and sensitive, blues-infused treatment of ballads.
7. Ray Charles
Ray Charles is of course known by many people as a legendary soul the who came before him. greats-pianist with hits such as “Hallelujah I Love Her So” and “Hit The Road Jack.” He was, though, heavily influenced by
In the world of , his debut live album was recorded at America’s Newport Festival in 1958, alongside fellow greats such as Milt Jackson ( vibraphone), bassist Oscar Pettiford and guitarist Kenny Burrell.
His career that lasted almost 50 years and “The Genius” (as he came to be known) boasts a discography of more than 500 songs which, soul-hits aside, include renditions of standardssuch as Georgia on My Mind, Stella By Starlight, Willow Weep For Me and It Had To Be You.
The epitome of 50s Cool, and trumpeter is one of the most famous musicians of all time.
The young ‘s west coast aesthetic was first delivered in an innately melodic trumpet style, before being transferred to his voice.
Baker’s vocal ‘scat’ solo on the standard ‘It Could Happen To You‘ in 1958 perhaps sums up his talent and appeal best.
It’s simple, pure and romantic, eschewing flashy displays of fast-paced, high-pitched pyrotechnics which categorised many other performers at the time.
5. Mel Tormé
Whilst his smooth, tenor voice saw him named “The Velvet Fog“, Mel Tormé was renowned for an impressive versatility during his career; as well as singing and scatting as well as anyone, he composed songs, arranged music, worked as an actor and author, and played piano and drums.
Without a doubt his most famous work is ‘The Christmas Song (‘Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire’), which was initially made famous by .
In his early career he led a vocal group called the Mel-Tones, before his solo career took of in the 1950s.
Just as many greats before and since, Mel Tormé attributes some of his success to a famous partnership, working frequently with Marty Paich and his Los Angeles-based Dek-Tette.
Perhaps their most famous was ‘Swings Shubert Alley’ (1960), which includes perhaps the definitive version of ‘Too Close For Comfort’.
Like a number of the great we’ve included in this list, he dabbled with contemporary pop songs in the 60s & 70s, before returning to (for which he is most fondly remembered) in his final decades.
Fun fact: one of his sons, James Tormé is also a , keeping the family tradition alive.
Arguably the finest male of the modern age, The Guardian described Chicago-born as “a kind of Sinatra with superpowers.”
Many fans of the vocal tradition count him as the natural successor of improvising singers like and .
With 10 Grammy nominations under his belt, his technical skill and flexibility is coupled with the spirit of a true entertainer.
Elling was hailed by The New York Times as “the standout male modern stylings. of our time” and is just at ease performing classic songs as he is with vocalese, scat singing and
For a great insight into his mix of entertainment with high-level jazz, check out this tongue-in-cheek version of Pennie’s From Heaven.
actually began his career as a hotly-tipped piano player, leading a popular trio with a drummer-less line up. -pianist
It wasn’t long, though, before his smooth, elegant vocal style was discovered and he bent to audience demand to sing more and more.
If you’re looking for some classic early recordings, try Straighten Up and Fly Right‘ or ‘Beautiful Moons Ago‘.
As is often the case, his rising fame saw the influence of major record labels emerge and he began to record mainly as a and was marketed as something of a ballad crooner, complete with lush strings.
Alongside this though, he was a brilliant entertainer and is perhaps best known to the wider world as the smiling, gravelly-voiced of “What a Wonderful World” and “Hello Dolly“, which were released to massive commercial success in the 1960s.
is credited with some of the early innovations in scat singing and his series of classic collaborations with – including the 1956 outing ‘Ella & Louis’ – are a must-have in any vocal fans’ collection.
Despite the difference in their voices and styles, they complement each other perfectly, with their sunny personalities shining brightly.
It’s been described as the perfect ‘gateway’ for newcomers to the genre, but these are two singers with enough timeless quality that it also bears repeated listens for seasoned fans.
It’s perhaps unsurprising that some hardcore at all, but Ol’ Blue Eyes swung as hard as anyone, worked with many of the best musicians of the day and contributed a huge amount to the standard repertoire. enthusiasts argue he shouldn’t be called a
His prominent role in bringing to the masses makes him an essential part of the music’s history and, of course, to this list of great vocalists!
First finding fame fronting big bands led by Harry James and Tommy Dorsey, Sinatra becoming a huge heartthrob.
He released a number of albums with arrangements by Nelson Riddle, including the mournful In The Wee Small Hours, which has been called one of the first concept albums, and Songs For Swingin’ Lovers, which is considered one of his best.
But, in our opinion, all that pales in comparison to his 1966 album ‘Sinatra at the Sands’ which comes live from the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas and him on top form, accompanied by the Count Basie Orchestra and with brilliant arrangements by Quincy Jones.
So that’s it!
Our pick of the best of all time.
Whether you’re a looking for inspiration or just a fan of the music, I hope this snapshot of some of the great male vocalists has given you some new ideas for your next listening session or shopping trip!
Looking for more ? You’ll find many of these men on our lists of the 50 best albums of all time…
International jazz booking agent, manager and host of Jazzfuel.
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