Scat singing is the improvisation of wordless, nonsensical vocals, a technique
that particularly grew in this country in the early 1900’s and was advanced primarily by jazz
and jazz-influenced performers.
Impromptu vocalising on the melody can also be the use of syllables that imitate instruments.
I’d obviously heard the style on record but I remember first being fully aware of scat singing during
an Ella Fitzgerald concert I attended at London’s Royal Albert Hall around 1969.
As in all her performances, the magnificent Ella skillfully enunciated the lyrics of
each and every ballad drawn principally from the Great American Songbook.
Then suddenly, she injected an enticing group of wordless phrases.
To illustrate her celebrated dexterity in this style, here are YouTube links
to two of her concert performances of songs she regularly featured in her live appearances;
firstly, here’s her 1960 version of the 1940 Morgan Lewis/Nancy Hamilton ballad HOW HIGH THE MOON.
Recorded in Berlin, Germany and supported by The Paul Smith Quartet, Ella initially sang the song’s
original lyric and then, fifty seconds in, Paul’s drummer Gus Johnson upped the tempo
and Ella took off on a cavalcade of her trademark rhythmic scat vocals.
Secondly. here’s an example of Ella scatting at intervals during a song that Sam Coslow wrote
for and which was introduced by Martha Raye in the 1936 Paramount film “Rhythm On The Range”.
Titled (IF YOU CAN’T SING IT) YOU’LL HAVE TO SWING IT, it’s alternatively known as MR. PAGANINI.
The song became particularly associated with Ella after she sang it on the 1936 Decca version
by Chick Webb & His Orchestra and then at different times over the years.
Here’s a standout live performance by Ella recorded at the Crescendo Club in Hollywood in 1961.
To be specific, you can hear her scatting at 0:59, 1:27, 2:23, 2:43, 3:02 & 3:21:
In the aforementioned sequence in “Rhythm On The Range”, Martha Raye was supported
by Bob Burns, The Sons Of The Pioneers and also trumpeter/singer Louis Prima.
Decades later in Disney’s 1967 animated film “The Jungle Book”, the very same Mr. Prima
in character as the voice of King Louie scatted along with Phil Harris as Baloo The Bear
on Richard & Robert Sherman’s song I WAN’NA BE LIKE YOU.
Scatting was not always only performed by jazz musicians.
For example, David Lee Roth injected some rhythmic vocal patter in his
JUST A GIGOLO/I AIN’T GOT NOBODY hit in ’85
and Amy Winehouse scatted in her song KNOW YOU NOW on her debut album in 2003.
In addition, even Al Jolson could be heard scatting in one of his early recordings.
Of course, nonsense phrases are nothing new in pop, rock’n’roll and doo-wop such as
“Sha na na na, sha na na na na na” in GET A JOB by The Silhouettes in ’58
and RAMA LAMA DING DONG by The Edsels in ’61.
This trend was satirized by Barry Mann & Gerry Goffin
in Barry’s 1961 hit WHO PUT THE BOMP (In The Bomp, Bomp, Bomp).
In scat terms, 1930’s Cotton Club jazz singer/bandleader
Cab Calloway created some of his own jive language
as in the ‘entrancing phrase’ ZAZ ZUH ZAZ
and the very memorable
‘Hi-dee hi-dee hi-dee hi’ chorus
in his signature song MINNIE THE MOOCHER.
Another of my personal favorite scat songs is MUMBLES,
a piece of vocal hokum dreamed up by the highly
respected jazz trumpeter Clark Terry. He recorded it
with the Oscar Peterson Trio on Mercury in 1964.
Sample it here:
In 1977, on her Lamont Dozier co-produced Atlantic album “Sweet Passion”, Aretha Franklin delivered an exhilarating performance of MUMBLES for which she used Bias Boshell’s I’VE GOT THE MUSIC IN ME as an intro. https://youtu.be/P_8bNBPjrFk
It’s possible to discover all kinds of scat intonations throughout the history of recorded music.
For instance, Louis Armstrong’s 1926 track
HEEBIE JEEBIES (see in my list below) is generally regarded as a key early exponent of the style
and a further example from that same decade
was the recording of MISSISSIPPI MUD
by Paul Whiteman & His Orchestra
featuring the Original Rhythm Boys
who were Bing Crosby, Harry Barris and Al Rinker;
Barris co-wrote the song and provided the scat vocal.
Pianist/guitarist Slim Gaillard (above) invented his own scat language which he called ‘Vout’.
His most famous song was CEMENT MIXER (Put-Ti, Put-Ti) recorded for Cadet in 1946;
its lyric included an example of his language
‘A puddle o'vooty, puddle o'gooty, puddle o'scooty’.
Listen to it here:
(One of Slim Gaillard’s children was Janis Hunter, Marvin Gaye’s second wife)
In addition to Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and Cab Calloway,
other key role models of scat singing included Sarah Vaughan, Anita O’Day,
Sammy Davis Jr., Mel Tormé and the triple threat:Lambert, Hendricks & Ross.
Here are a small group of the countless vintage recordings
which included scat performances and inflections…
CREOLE LOVE CALL
(Duke Ellington/James ‘Bubba’ Miley/Rudy Jackson)
by Duke Ellington & His Orchestra
Vocal: Adelaide Hall
Brooklyn-born Adelaide Hall lived and recorded in Britain from the late 30’s onwards.
DESERT BLUES (Big Chief Buffalo Nickel)
by Leon Redbone
Pro: Joel Dorn
(Warner Bros: 1975)
Written in 1929 by country pioneer Jimmie Rodgers.
(Sam M. Lewis/Joe Young/Harry Akst)
by Bing Crosby & The Mills Brothers
A major hit in early ’32.
by Louis Armstrong & His Hot Five
Vocal: Louis Armstrong
by Al Jarreau
Pro:Al Schmitt & Tommy Lipuma
(Warner Bros: 1977)
From his “Look To The Rainbow/Live In Europe” album
I GOT RHYTHM
(George Gershwin/Ira Gershwin)
by Ethel Waters
IT DON’T MEAN A THING (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)
(Duke Ellington/Irving Mills)
by The Boswell Sisters w/The Dorsey Brothers Orchestra
NAGASAKI (Harry Warren/Mort Dixon) by Gene Krupa & His Orchestra/Vocal: Leo Watson(Brunswick: 1938) https://youtu.be/64_5vsWsc4k
Alongside Louis Armstrong,
Leo Watson was another early exponent of scat vocalizing,
recording also with Artie Shaw and Slim Gaillard.
(Sarah Vaughan/Quincy Jones)
by Sarah Vaughan w/The Kirk Stuart Trio
(Mercury: 1963) https://youtu.be/NPwrlaShdPc Recorded live at the Tivoli Club in Copenhagen, Denmark.
ZAZ ZUH ZAZ
(Cab Calloway/Harry White)
by Cab Calloway & His Cotton Club Orchestra
As in all my postings,the recordings listed above are personal choices and recommendations
and are in no way intended as definitive collections of the genre.
© Alan Warner, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Alan Warner with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.