American Choral Directors Association

Repertoire Vocal Jazz Standards

Vocal Jazz R&S Standards

ACDA Vocal Jazz Standards (the START of a conversation...)
Drafted by Kirk Marcy
  1. Repertoire
    1. Selection
      1. Variety that represents both historical and contemporary approaches to the art of jazz.
      2. Choose repertoire that is well written, with age appropriate lyrics that will challenge singers and players to interpret, relate to and communicate with an audience.
      3. Know the vocal range of the ensemble. Choose literature that sits within the comfortable range, but occasionally challenges singers to strengthen the upper and lower registers as well.
      4. Accompaniment in vocal jazz is often misunderstood. To be respectful to the history of the art of jazz, one must, whenever possible, utilize a standard jazz trio, consisting of piano (or guitar), bass (acoustic or electric) and drum set.
      5. Educational value is an important consideration when choosing repertoire. There should be multiple opportunities for students to learn jazz concepts, be they melodic, harmonic, rhythmic, or interpretive in chosen literature.
      6. Whenever possible, consider commissioning new works that will allow an influx of new literature into the genre.
    2. Presentation
      1. Balance the following when programming for your vocal jazz ensemble:
        1. Historical value (early blues, swing and big band, bebop, contemporary, etc.)
        2. Tempo/Style (rubato, slow, medium, fast/ballad, swing, latin, funk, etc.)
        3. Color/Texture (unison, 2-part, 3-part, 4+-part harmonic writing)
      2. Performance practice in vocal jazz is often less about 'score study', and more about an understanding of the concepts of articulation, interpretation and other factors that allow audiences to be connected to the performer.
      3. Use of movement (if any) in vocal jazz should be more spontaneous and less choreographed.
      4. Seek out musicians within the community, school, choir (especially instrumentalists) who have a background in playing jazz and would offer a necessary and valuable component to the vocal jazz ensemble.
      5. Use of sound reinforcement (where needed) should be done with appropriate and functional equipment, and with advance preparation and practice by conductors/teachers and performers.
  2. Vocal Production
    1. Vocal Health
      1. Conductors/teachers should have a keen awareness of both individual and group vocal health.
      2. Contrary to what some would think, jazz singing is NOT inherently more potentially damaging to the voice than any other type of singing. Good basic vocal habits such as breath support, control, vowel formation, tongue placement and tone quality should be practiced and adhered to while singing vocal jazz.
    2. Style
      1. Modify tone color to fit style. One cannot approach singing in a big band style the same way as singing a Singers Unlimited ballad. When healthy vocal habits are established, singers can modify the tone in a healthy manner to imitate the many timbres found in jazz music.
      2. As with any other type of choral music, a conductor's/teacher's knowledge about different performance practices of historical and stylistic repertoire is essential.
  3. Rehearsal Techniques and Instruction
    1. Literacy
      1. Developing independent musicians should be a goal of every vocal jazz conductor/teacher. This can be achieved through a variety of manners including resources (recordings, books, etc.) or through carefully chosen literature.
      2. Pitch literacy is often more challenging in vocal jazz, as melodies and voice-leading is often more complex and less predictable than in more traditional forms of singing. This heightens the need for a consistent approach to developing independent musicians.
      3. Rhythmic literacy is one of the most challenging areas of vocal jazz. Jazz rhythms are often very complex, and teaching singers how to interpret concepts of 'swinging 8th notes' are often overlooked by conductors/teachers.
      4. Harmonic literacy is an essential part of the development of independent musicians. Jazz harmony is often built on the 9th, 11th, and 13th scale degrees (higher numbered harmony). The understanding of how to balance these and altered forms of these complex harmonies is essential to developing independent jazz singers.
      5. Improvisational literacy is an area that seldom is addressed by conductors/educators. Too often, singers who improvise (scat) are given little to no guidance as to how to become more competent at this 'cornerstone' of jazz music. Contrary to popular belief, there ARE rules that govern improvisation. Help your singers learn them!
  4. Professional Growth and Development
    1. ACDA and its affiliates prohibit the use of photocopies or duplications of published/copyrighted material at all conventions and events. It is the position of ACDA Vocal Jazz that we as an entity of ACDA will support copyright literacy and adherence to copyright laws.
    2. Networking
      1. It is important for conductors/educators to network and share with colleagues through attendance at conventions, festivals, workshops, etc.
      2. Ensembles should hear good models as well as share their own strengths. This is most successfully done by attendance and participation in festivals, and through submission of audition recordings for state, divisional and national ACDA conferences.
    3. Continuing Education for conductors/educators
      1. Attend performances of vocal jazz at festivals and conferences. Learn through observation and listening to model groups and performers.
      2. Artistry is a process that is continually developed. Jazz is uniquely based upon 'point-of-view' that is constantly being defined and re-defined through intensive listening and performing.
  5. Recruitment & Retention
    1. Have a mission statement, educational and artistic goals for the choir.
    2. Travel when possible. There are uniquely different approaches to the art of vocal jazz. Many of these are based upon what is going on in a particular region.
    3. Be a part of the local community. Regardless of what age level your students are, it is important to be an active part of the educational community in which you reside. If you have a vocal jazz ensemble comprised of high school students, be a resource to those school groups that 'feed' into your program. If you work with younger students, actively seek out opportunities to collaborate with the programs that your students will likely graduate into.
  6. Audience Development & Education
    1. Educate and entertain audiences. Jazz is more sophisticated than most other contemporary styles of music. To this end, there is a great need to balance music that is designed to entertain, with music that is more provocative and thus, designed to educate. This is extremely important when looking at vocal improvisation (scat singing). Most audiences have a limited capacity to accept and enjoy vocalists improvising. Consider carefully just 'how many' scat solos are appropriate within any one performance.
    2. Collaborate with professional ensembles/soloists whenever possible. This is a great educational experience for your student performers as well as a successful way to broaden your audience.
  7. Advocacy
    1. Promote the work and artistry of vocal jazz within ACDA and other organizations.
    2. As a choral art, promote knowledge of the voice, repertoire and jazz style through working with vocal jazz ensembles and choirs.