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Ain't misbehavin' - a jazz workshop with Joss Peach

For the two last weeks Resound has been exploring speech quality. Speech quality is singing as you speak; your vocal folds are shorter and thicker compared to classical singing. It's generalising, but think Adele versus Kiri Te Kanawa. Speech quality, which is the basis of jazz, blues, rock and pop, has huge appeal because its unmodified and natural sound speaks directly to us.

As we all have such different musical backgrounds in Resound, we used Estill speech quality as a starting point. When we explored speech quality, however, we found that as we go higher in our individual ranges, the speech quality begins to fizzle out. The question quickly becomes: what do we add to make the range work? Do we want to add anything at all? As we start to work specific structures, is it still the sound we want?

Playing around with sweetness, twang and some head and neck stability for the top is a good starting point to avoid going down the route of strain.

Those with classical background need to be careful not to slip in to a rounded, projected sound with continuous vibrato, if they want to be convincing in speech singing. Having said that, jazz as a style is very fluid - it moves constantly between different vocal colours. So it might well be that a richer, darker sound or even a breathy tone is suitable for part of a song. The artistic choices are all down to the feel of the song and one's own taste.

At our recent workshop, we had the wonderful Joss Peach with us coaching the group in jazz improvisation and phrasing. Joss is a jazz pianist and vocalist based in Brighton who uses his skills as a jazz musician to give fresh interpretations in all sorts of different styles. He began working as a musician at the tender age of 15 in the bars and restaurants of Canterbury and is now one of the UK’s most in-demand event performers.

Joss said:

"My advice to someone who is new to vocal improv is to relax and connect with a childlike sense of exploration. Anyone can do it! If you're tackling a jazz standard, you can make it your own by getting to know the song inside out, listening to many different versions, living with the song for some time and experimenting. You know when it feels right! I’d sing it as low as is comfortable to give a natural sound and to allow for excursions higher in the range if i want to. Also, music theory, like knowing your scales, is a huge help, it gives you a strong foundation and greater freedom."

Stuart Heaton, one of Resound's Tenor 2s commented:

"I was a bit nervous at first about improvising, but found it very freeing. It was great fun to just throw myself in. A childish, playful attitude helped and not thinking too much about it. I also enjoyed listening to the interplay between Joss and individual singers when we did Ain’t Misbehavin'."

Richard Wilson, a Bass 2 in Resound who has sung classically for over 60 years, said:

"It was a bit tricky at first, but we are use to exploring and learning about voice in Resound, so after some guided practise it was possible! There was a second of panic, but I gave it a go, and it was ok, it didn’t matter if we “messed up”, so it was very freeing. It was interesting to work with an accompanist who follows your style and mood instantly. I wonder though how this could be translated in to choral singing, where we all have to sing as one for it to work?"

Adam Waugh, another Resound Tenor 2, said:

"It was daunting at first, but then it felt ok to go a bit crazy! I’m interested in jazz as I find it liberating. I wanted to express my personality in Ain’t Misbehavin’ and this was very easy together with Joss. I think I came to a state of mind where instinct took over. With the sound, It was a challenge to hold back on the vibrato and also not use as much twang as we did in country and western."

Resound is a Brighton-based voice group with vocal development high on the agenda. As their MD I’m using Estill Voice training this term to see if we can learn to adapt our sound to all the different genres of music we tackle in a project called Vocal Chameleons.

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