Mayhew on Jazz

10 Feb 10: My good friend and prolific, brilliant author Jonathan Mayhew has started a new blog, devoted to jazz, to complement his blog ¡Bemsha SWING! From a recent post:

When swing style pop vocals like those of Tony Bennett became eclipsed by rock music in the mid 1960s, it freed Bennett up to be a jazzier singer. The same happened with Rosemarie Clooney–a pop star in the 1950s but a jazz artist later in life. Interestingly, rock musicians popular in the 1970s like Linda Rondstat and Rod Stewart, Joni Mitchell, also turned to the great songs of the great American songbooks much later in their careers–with varying results, some good, some bad.

Nat Cole began as a jazz pianist. When he began singing that talent eclipsed his piano playing and he became an international pop star. His brother, Freddie Cole, has had an interesting career as a jazz singer, using a Nat King Cole-like voice but a more jazzy, less pop feel. Even Armstrong did pop vocals in his later career that have little to do (seemingly) with his jazz roots: “It’s a Wonderful World” and “Hello Dolly.”

Vocal music, then, has always been close to the commercial side of jazz, often to the point of not being jazz anymore. To what point the dichotomy between jazz singing and popular music is valid, I don’t know. Is Sinatra singing jazz with Count Basie and pop with Nelson Riddle? For me, Sinatra is a jazz artist. He even tried to hire Billy Strayhorn away from Duke at one point…