Anita Wardell and Vocalese

We had the pleasure of singer Anita Wardell performing with our house trio last week. I’ve always had bags of time for this lady and it was a really enjoyable gig – thanks Neets, it was a blast. Any time you’re free, our arms are open wide.

There’s a jazz vocal practice that Anita is one smoking hot operator on, and its called Vocalese. Not to be confused with Vocalise (pronounced a la Française) or Scat (pronounced a la ba-ma da-ba squee-oo). Both of which, of course, she can knock out of the park as well…

Vocalise (the noun, not the verb) is the classical use of the voice purely as an instrument, ie without words or even syllables. Scat is similar, but uses nonsense syllables for rhythmic effect and differentiation. Vocalese, however, involves setting an originally instrumental melody to lyrics.

It’s been done for ages with jazz heads, some of them quite wild, tricky and not necessarily terribly naturally “vocal” in character. In fact, some of the lyrics that singers have come up with have come to be regarded as the words to tunes that didn’t originally have any. Taking it a step further involves applying the same approach to well-known solos…


Anyway, a video speaks more than a thousand words, so here’s Anita doing Bobby Timmons’ classic, Moanin’ with her own band. She uses Jon Hendricks’ words for the head, then goes one further and performs the whole of Lee Morgan’s trumpet solo from the Jazz Messengers recording – mimicking the sound of the instrument, and to her own words:


Quite something, isn’t it? We should all know some favourite solos well enough to replay them in our heads, perhaps even be able to do a half-decent job of blappy-doodling them out loud. Just half-decent will do – very few of us have Anita’s kind of chops! It builds the connection between fingers, lips, ears and whatever strange regions of the brain that are firing when musicians perform. You don’t have to write your own lyrics, but it can make for a sweet connection to the spirit of the tune…

For more, check her out at She’s being trotting the globe for a while, but is now based in the UK again and has some summer school events coming up that you might want to look at.

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Posted in a) Soloing Scales & Modes, c) Musicianship, e) Rants & Ramblings, i) Reviews

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We play every month at Toulouse Lautrec in Kennington, South London.

Fri Mar 30th 9pm, £15 (£9 adv)
JLT feat Duncan Eagles ten sax 

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