Vocalese noun \ˌvōkəˈlēz, -ˈlēs\ A style or genre of jazz singing wherein words are sung to melodies that were originally part of an all-instrumental composition or improvisation.
The aforementioned art is a unique, daunting technique that was pioneered by jazz vocalists such as King Pleasure, Jon Hendricks, and Eddie Jefferson, who took scat a step further by supplanting abstract syllables with actual lyrics.
It can be difficult to sing the head of many jazz standards, let alone the high flying solos associated with many of their original recordings. With intricate runs that often leap across daunting intervals, instrumental solos require a degree of agility most voices lack. At best, these efforts often lead to bizarre or comical results, but every now and then someone just nails it. Jose James’ nimble delivery on a handful of Coltrane classics show he’s up for the job.
Beyond commanding every note of these solos, James uses original lyrics that complement the beauty and depths of the recordings. Avoiding hackneyed couplets just to fit with Trane’s complex phrasing, he projects inspired lyrics with a memorable baritone reminiscent of Kurt Elling or Gil-Scott Heron.
Sadly, the triptych was never officially released due to the wishes of the Coltrane estate. Fortunately James made the tunes available for free download online, and live footage from a performance of the songs and others from the Coltrane catalog remains online. There’s plenty more ink that could be spilled about the masterful technique at work here, but instead of overthinking, sometimes it’s just best to listen.
Download: Coltrane Unreleased EP
José James – Equinox
You can witness José James' live set in its entirety by clicking here.
Written by: @BrotherHayling