Are band singers putting you off the music?

11/10/12 - "The modern trend of trad bands to sing every other number, and sometimes more frequently, is very off-putting", writes Denis Wyatt. "Many ‘singers’ are not vocalists and as a dedicated listener I – and many others- would love to have bands revert to how it was decades ago when most jazz sessions were mainly instrumental and bands had a singer on board who could sing. Increasingly good bands are spoilt by too many vocals. Please consider this as I know that some bands who are particularly guilty discourage attendance at gigs which will result in more jazz venues folding through lack of funds".

12/10/12 - Dear Fred, I agree entirely with Denis Wyatt. A gentleman was once defined as someone who owned a banjo/saxophone but didn't play it. Our current trouble is people without a voice who still insist on using it. The only person to get away with that was Louis Armstrong! Is it when to play a solo is tricky they escape by singing?

Regards, Philip Cakebread.

12/10/12 - Can I heartily endorse Denis Wyatt's comments about so-called singers in jazz bands. I love to hear a good jazz singer, of whom there are too few around, but absolutely hate the increasing tendency of every band member who can more-or-less follow a tune to insist on singing, regardless of the fact that they add nothing to the musical experience. It would be invidious to name names but there are three bands which regularly visit the North West that I positively avoid for that reason. In fact, I can easily count on one hand the number of current band members whose singing I enjoy". -

Malcolm Bridge

12/10/12 - Hi Fred,

As a musician who sometimes sings, I come to bury singers, not to praise them! Yes folks it's confession time. Most of us sing the odd number or two, and let's face it, most of us are rubbish! (as an honourable exception I can only think of Mr. Owens of the Chicago Teds). Why do we insist on doing it when I suspect that many, like me, don't even enjoy it? It seems to have become an expected chore, and once it is known that you know the words to Tunes X, Y & Z and they're in a key that doesn't stretch your tonsils too much, you become lumbered with Tunes X, Y&Z for evermore! I think we are generally quite shy and introverted, which is why we are more comfortable hiding behind our instruments. Singing is an extrovert activity which requires gestures, body movements and eye contact with the audience. A good singer needs more than a decent voice. He or she must an actor as well, and as Denis and Malcolm rightly point out, this is why our vocals tend to put many people off, because we are not actors. I just wish there were more pure singers, male and female, who knew the repertoire and could be an integral part of a band, then we could all relax and just play the tunes.

Cheers, Phil Yates

12/10/12 - Hello Fred,

Denis Wyatt's comments about vocals 'every other number' is interesting. As far as the 'decades ago' bit well yes, bands played a mainly instrumental repertoire. Are we talking 'British Trad Bands' or 'New Orleans Bands' though?

The 'trad' bands usually included something from Barber, Bilk or Ball. It was (and still is) obligatory. Chris Barber had Ottilie of course but Acker and Kenny warbled a lot and were extremely successful. I seem to remember Paddy Lightfoot (bjo) singing quite a lot as well. The New Orleans contingent included songs from 'Kid' Ory ('The Girls go Crazy', 'Buckets Got a Hole' etc.) and of course Jelly Roll Morton's 'Didn't He Ramble'.

Bob Wallis, with a voice reminiscent of Joe Cocker with laryngitis bellowed out 'Come Along Please' and Dave Donohoe with his penchant for obscure songs from 'The Delta' rattled out (and still does) stuff researched from ancient scratchy '78's - with great success.

These days we do have outstanding vocalists like Chris Howes who specialises in the music of the 1920's 'Charleston' style. Martin Bennett has a good blues style. There have to be many more I haven't heard. Maybe correspondents will put forward their favourites. In the '50's and '60's audiences did come to hear the jazz of the instrumentalists of course and today, at jazz clubs dedicated to the 'jazz concert' scenario, the audience expects something similar. A balanced programme is essential in this environment.

However on the 'pub jazz' scene where punters are maybe not quite so dedicated to 'our music', 'giving 'em a song' is the only way to hold their attention. This is not to decry their musical intelligence. In many cases it's 'free jazz', they want to chat to their friends, listen to the music with half an ear and have fun. Nothing wrong with that. So consequently lots of vocals to keep them happy.

As far as 'a singer on board', economics being the way they are, this can mean a band dropping one front line instrumentalist - usually the trombonist. Few musicians can afford to play for next to nothing with fuel costs as they are. So in many cases, bands have musicians who can 'warble a bit'. Just a fact of life I'm afraid.

Ian Royle

Hello Fred As a founder member and trombone for many years with the Stockton based 'New Orleans Preservation Band' with Pete Wright (tmpt) and later Brian Carrick (clnt) in front of a fine rhythm section. I can sympathise with the view that a mainly instrumental band N'Orleans band is a delight to listen to. However, we have found that by expanding our paradigm to include Swing and Blues sprinkled with more vocals that a non jazz audience and a younger demographic can relate to, we increase the amount of work we get. Correspondingly, with the greater flexibility, we can bring our brand of jazz to a wider audience who *expressly request* the inclusion of vocals in hitherto non-jazz venues. So to Dennis Wyatt, I can only say that this (vocals) policy has paid dividends for 'Pete Jezard & The Blackwater Band' down here in Essex.

Regards Peter Jezzard 


Hello Fred,

I don’t think that many players when they vocalise, kid themselves that they are producing jazz of a high standard. Most, though, can sing either the melody fairly accurately or along with the chord sequence. Are their efforts significantly worse than many solos, when instrumentalists sometimes play the tune straight (if they can), sometimes play a string of clichés (their own or someone else’s), sometimes noodle (playing a stream of notes that are neither definitely wrong nor right – an interesting accomplishment)? I rarely notice musicians refusing solos because either they had nothing to say, or they felt that the tune had gone on for long enough.

Probably there sometimes are too many vocals, but some of those listeners who support jazz at pubs and clubs go for reasons social (“Joe and Betty are always there”) and nostalgic (“Remember the fifties?”). I suspect that they may enjoy vocals. Culture and entertainment are often uneasy bedfellows, but one example (not jazz) which has come my way recently can be seen at

John Muskett

22/10/12 -

Hello Fred,

I think that there is room for a modicum of vocals in semi-pro jazz, as long as it is not overdone and provided that the singer is competent. The origins of jazz are in The Blues in which the words were important. Many jazz lyrics are meaningful or even almost poetry. The good singer can use his or her voice as a musical instrument expressing jazz feeling. A vocal can be almost like talking to the audience and can make them more involved with the performance. it is not necessary for the semi-pro singer to be as good as Ella Fitzgerald, just as it is not necessary for me to be as good as Earl Hines

Barrie Quilliam

04/07/18 -

To add to my contribution to the 2012 discussion on band singers I must admit that writing and singing my own lyrics to well known songs is great fun and one of the best ways to entertain an audience. Joe Addy used to sing a song with the Chicago Teds which kept on expanding over the years and had the audience in stitches (I'm sure Brian Singleton will remember it) and Joe didn't HAVE to have a great voice to keep the punters amused. Roy Rogers sang 'It's very clear-Your mothers here to stay' with the same band. That was a pinch from Alan Sherman's version (one day I'll have a go at 'You went the wrong way old King Louis'-it's on You Tube). I also pinched 'Zimmertime' from Frank Brooker (what a plagiarist I am) with ZIMMERTIME (2,3,4,1) AND THE WALKIN' AIN'T EASY (if you can't anticipate the rests you shouldn't be on this site). JOINTS ARE CREAKIN'- AND THE BLOOD PRESSURE'S HIGH...WALK TWENTY FEET...AND YOU END UP WHEEZIN...MY BOXES OF PILLS THEY..STAND UP TWO FEET HIGH'. Jazz singers? Look up Bob Wallis. He could hold an audience in the palm of his epiglottis. Still Swinging. -

Ian Royle


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