Jazz Singing: A Guide to Pedagogy and Performance

Welcome to a new year and my new book! Jazz Singing: A Guide to Pedagogy and Performance (Rowman & Littlefield 2022) was written as a culmination of my years of pursuing a dual career as a touring musician and a professor of voice and jazz. Still teaching and singing, I continue to love learning (and will apply those future gleanings toward my second edition of this book). JS has several target audiences: working singers, teachers of singing, instrumentalists who teach singers, student singers, choir directors, and jazz aficionados. The book may be used to fill in gaps in one’s education related to voice science; microphone technique; teaching jazz to classical singers; helping classical voice teachers navigate jazz style when singing and/or teaching; mixing to create authentic jazz, music theatre, CCM, opera, or classical styles; crossover singing; and finding one’s own natural, healthy voice. The book amounts to 90,000 words dedicated to singing well and teaching others how to do it with a jazz sensibility. Illustrations and images contribute visual aids to the written text (I am particularly proud of my freehand sketch of the anatomy of the ear!). My Mix Continuum, which I have used since the mid 1990s in lessons and singing classes, teaches singers to balance resonance and tone color options for maximum efficiency, vocal comfort, and authenticity in any given style. There are scores of exercises peppered throughout the book that will give singers and teachers new ideas for exploring concepts in a jazz context. 

One facet that sets this volume apart from all the rest is the descriptive segments (featured in several chapters) that illustrate techniques and approaches used by the greatest jazz singers of the past century, including Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Mel Tormé, Peggy Lee, Nat Cole, Tony Bennett, and others. Readers are encouraged to listen to the artist described to hear a specific stylistic choice or technique for themselves. Several different sub-genres of jazz and various jazz styles are discussed, and several types of vocal improvisation are explored. There is also a chapter on the use of Dalcroze Eurhythmics as a means for growing musicianship in both the voice studio and the vocal jazz ensemble rehearsal. Topics of mindfulness, expression, stage presence, phrasing, and stage etiquette round out this comprehensive volume in just under three hundred pages. 

I am overjoyed that this labor of love has finally been completed and is being introduced to the world! Readers are encouraged to ask me questions or invite me to teach a workshop in their region so that I may work with your students and elucidate any concepts that may invite demonstration. If you like what you read, I warmly encourage you to leave a favorable review on Goodreads and Amazon so that other seekers may also find this book. It took a village to prepare this singer to write it, and now I’m grateful for the honor of sharing what I have learned. Happy reading! ☺


Balancing Writing and Performance (Part 2)

Where there is joy in our work, there is God. That said, times like these invite us to find balance by embracing acceptance. Things will never again be exactly as they were. Living in the present is so much healthier than getting tangled up in the past or future, and the present is the only moment we can truly control. That is where we LIVE. Embracing this truth helps me prioritize those things that are rewarding in some way, either for my career, for my well-being, or for the sake of someone else I am looking to help. This means that I must prioritize time to write one of the articles coming due, or a chapter for my next book, or a song arrangement for an impending concert. This is the hardest responsibility of all. Saying not yet to the work I see around me, like laundry and dusting, or the emails piling up in my account (which are generally not urgent if they arrived in the past hour or so) will help me to spend the needed time on my ACTUAL JOB the act of creating. Until I have acknowledged that being a creative spirit IS my job, other distractions will ultimately prevent me from making progress on that song, book, or conference presentation.

Routines tend to help some people accomplish their goals. One routine I have tried to stick with is designating blocks of time each day to devote to various tasks. Another method is simply to decide that I will spend any two hours of the workday writing, one hour updating my website, one hour practicing, and one hour planning a conference presentation (for example). This allows my artist the time she needs to get creative work done while embracing her need for variety and freedom. I find that I have to vary not only my daily schedule, but also my work approach in order to keep my creative artist engaged. This is not an easy task, as any successful artist knows.

Artists are aware that there are two paradigms of time we can inhabit. Living according to chronos, (by calendars, clocks, and deadlines) is what the world generally expects us to do. We turn in work by a certain date, meet for lunch at a specified time, and keep to a carefully scheduled routine dictated by the clock. A more eternal, inspired outlook of time is kairos. In kairos, we lose track of time; find ourselves ‘in the zone’ as we write, create, or practice; enjoy the timelessness of a romantic evening; and lay down our stress and strain that is chronos-driven. Chronos is heavy traffic making us late for an appointment. Kairos is hours spent hiking or beachcombing that felt like only a few minutes. In kairos we accept the gift of the present moment and stretch it to encompass a lovely interlude of creativity, unrushed time with loved ones making memories, or spiritual refreshment. The artist’s challenge is to find ways to balance chronoswith kairos‘ we must have kairos to create, but we often have to operate within the world’s imposed deadlines. Learning to meditate can be a helpful tool toward cultivating kairosin our daily round. Carving out undistracted time to do the creative work while the world is knocking on my door represents the single most challenging task for this artist/writer. Only when I give myself permission to let chronos slide a bit can my artist feel free to inhabit kairos long enough to finish those creative tasks.

         Balance will always be elusive to the busy person. Our lives may perpetually seem out of balance to us, while to others, we may possess poise and wisdom as we wend our path through a variety of responsibilities. Most important is to give yourself permission to do the work first that will bring the most lasting benefit to you. This is rarely the ‘urgent’ work which is lying in your email box or voicemail (since you turned off your phone during your creativity session). It is more likely the book, song, or invention you would create if only you had the time…


Balancing Writing and Performance (Part 1)

The term “balance” is a tricky concept. My efforts toward life balance sometimes leave me feeling like I am standing atop a seesaw leaning first to one side, and then to the other to prevent one side from toppling over from too much weight while the other side flies upward from having no weight at all. How can we get anything done when we don’t know where to start, having several projects and tasks that need attention?

When a person does a lot of things well (s)he finds there are many who will bid for his/her time and energy, making boundaries difficult to set. Balance may feel like an elusive ideal that cannot be attained without excluding one important area for a period of time. This truth is crucial to understand. Unless one plans to author sixty books, for example, writing will not be a perpetual priority, but it must be attended to while the book is in progress. It may therefore be given attention at the exclusion of several other things that will regain their previous attention after the manuscript has been turned in. While steady progress toward an enormous goal like finishing a book manuscript is necessary, so it is necessary to prioritize the smaller but no less important tasks that also need doing.

In order to maintain this life adjustment, a writer must persevere as often as possible to make steady progress toward the goal of finishing the monumental project of writing a book. Books often come with deadlines imposed by a publisher, so finding ways to make the daily quota (again, at the exclusion of other activities like laundry, housecleaning, cooking, lawn work, gardening, etc.) can become burdensome when other work is clearly being neglected. Here is where asking for help becomes paramount! Dividing up tasks into achievable daily goals may also permit a few minutes per day to be spent in order to make sure work does not pile up to an insurmountable burden. The more individual projects one takes on, the more difficult this balancing act obviously becomes.

I am currently an author and musician with a separate, full-time day job (Director of Music Ministries at a local church). I just released my first book for a mainstream, international publisher (Peggy Lee: A Century of Song, Rowman & Littlefield) and am in the throes of writing my second which has an impending deadline. I am also a freelance performer, arranger, composer, music journalist, educator, podcaster (“The Singer’s Muse” launched on WGJC radio in November!), and community volunteer. I have learned the importance of setting boundaries to make writing time and music practice time sacred. Always trying to make room for the Spirit to orchestrate my days, though, I notice the occasional, unexpected phone call from someone who needs a lift and I look forward to accepting that as my Spirit work for the day.

I am thankful to be moving forward in a lot of ways, in spite of our current state of the world. I’ve completed one third of my second book; I am slowly writing pieces for five publications that have requested guest articles by the end of the year; I am designing a research presentation for an international jazz conference audience in January; I am practicing, arranging, directing, and producing a newly commissioned concert to be performed and recorded later that month; and am continuing my work as a church musician and director, guiding scores of singers and musicians through this awkward time of pandemic when gathering to play and sing are still not encouraged. Creativity, as always, is key to fulfilling my commitments! Instead of meeting to rehearse my choirs and other ensembles in the traditional sense, we are meeting virtually. Coming up with meaningful activities for our online gatherings continues to present creative challenges.

One thing I have learned not to do is compare myself to anyone else. Comparisons are ALWAYS bad for self-esteem and will wind up causing me to feel somewhat inadequate when I am MORE than adequate for the tasks God has legitimately given me. As I look around it is clear which tasks are from God. God-given tasks have real meaning and value. They involve investment in others’ lives for good. They are ongoing opportunities that keep flowing in because I have done similar things before that have prepared me for the next big opportunity. Hallelujah when clarity arrives to guide me to the right or to the left when faced with an important decision! Where there is joy in my work, there is God.

The full version of this article will be featured as a guest blog post on Lori Ann King’s website


The Singer’s Muse

What inspires singers? Toward whom does a singer glance when searching for musical ideas? Where do singers travel to fill their wells with creativity? When do singers reach for outside inspiration and why do they turn where they turn? I am delighted to investigate some of these direct and rhetorical questions in a new podcast I will host on WGJC radio called “The Singer’s Muse.”

Singers from all genres and styles will be invited to contribute their thoughts as podcast guests. As we share our journeys, stories, and experiences, we will learn from one another and hold each other up at a time when singing in public requires considerable modification or postponement. Whether hailing from the opera house, jazz festival, Broadway stage, church choir, baroque ensemble, or pop music scene, singers from all walks of life and masters of many different styles of music will provide thought-provoking dialogue and encouragement for our fellow musicians yearning to heal the world with their gifts, talents, art, and generosity.

My first episode of this monthly podcast series will air in early November on WGJC internet radio, and will be broadcast several times that month. The inaugural episode will introduce the premise of the podcast, a 110-year-old poem by the same name, and your podcast host.

I sincerely hope that you will join me for an eclectic series of conversations about music, life, art, poetry, creativity, success, failure, beauty, singing, hope, and inspiration. I look forward to sharing this artistic journey with you!


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