Jazz vocalists are a subset of vocalists that are required to ooze coolness and sexuality; female jazz vocalists to an even greater extent. Jazz is not just about a sound, but about an image as well. This is probably due to the prevalence of live jazz in smoky, underground clubs that kept the nation distracted during the second world war of the century.
It’s argued that the world wars created a space for gender and racial equality in the US and, believe it or not, this same notion can be seen in jazz music as well. A great increase in female jazz vocalists during this era, predominantly African-American female jazz vocalists, lends great credence to that argument.
The expectation for female American jazz vocalists to seduce an audience just the right amount, and make them forget their war troubles just outside the club, has long been a standard not required of their male counterparts. From Billie Holiday to Nina Simone and onwards to Norah Jones, a female American jazz vocalist has largely been judged on her ability to beguile and entrance the audience with not only her voice, but her image as well. It’s also been a requirement for female jazz vocalists to “make the music theirs” and change accompaniments so as not to sound simply like a female version of a male song. More recently, female jazz vocalists are often softening (or sharpening) their arrangements and images to meet standards; like playability on mainstream radio. Norah Jones is a prime example of this, having often needed to “reinvent” her sound to appease the masses. Her first album was critically acclaimed and commercially successful; however, her sound wasn’t purely jazz, rather it was jazz fused with both country music and pop.
Jazz Fusion- American Women Leading the Charge
Since Ella Fitzgerald, “The First Lady of Song” herself, female American jazz vocalists have been heralding jazz-fusion and blending styles of music to reach a broader audience. The difference between female jazz vocalists and male jazz vocalists has long been noticeable along the road of the introduction to modern jazz, as most classic jazz revivals featured predominantly male vocalists who were also predominantly white. That being said, with the exception of male jazz vocalists like Canada’s Michael Buble and Britain’s Jamie Callum, it seems as though female jazz vocalists are achieving greater levels of success than their male counterparts. Modern female artists are dominating those sexy, smoky underground clubs and the realm of commercial prevalence as well.