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A reply to a comment that got out of control. For my own amusement I decided to make it an entry. Excessive and digressive which isn't an apology.
I wouldn't dare say what jazz is. But when I think of it I think of improvisiation that causes the performer to become the composer. (Routine canonical definition.)
The distinction between jazz and pop didn't exist when jazz was popular: Duke Ellington, Armstrong, many others had their hit records. Sinatra tends to say it all. By the fifties the distinction hardened. Vaughan and Fitzgerald would record pop and jazz albums, designed as such.
Of course there's the pissy question asking what is jazz singing. I think there are three answers. The singer sings with a jazz group (my own choice for worst). The singer sings like an instrument (usual example Billy Holiday). The singer recomposes the song while singing (my own choice, Sarah Vaughan).
There's lots of reason for likeing whichever pop performer. A sense of identification, finding affirmation in the songs. I'm guilty of some of that. What would I think of the the Pet Shop Boys were they straight? I'd like Somerville for his vocal range and Almond for his dark inventiveness.
Early familiarity is the most common reason. When you get to most current pop I'd say that I'm most drawn to voices and what strikes me as inventive. And funkiness. Christina Aquilera has the voice and even had a good song. But she's clearly damned to be an over-emoter getting as far away from the inventive as quickly as she can. There's plenty of good voices used to no good: Shania Twayne. I was quite startled by LeeAnne Rimes version of a Patsy Cline song but haven't heard anything else (nor tried to).
Buster Rhymes can be funky but like many people he'll be best enjoyed when you can buy the Best Of comp that cuts out the dreck. Much of what I've heard that I like is like that. I'll try a CD in the shop but only a cut or two is worth hearing once. If in my dotage I care I'll catch up on them then. (BTW, does this whiney, uninventive rock like the theme song of Smallville have a name? I hit MTV and VH1 a couple of weeks ago and much of what I flipped through sounded similar.)
Boyz II Men's first CD was quite good. Mostly the songs produced by Dallas Austin. Which proves the sad truth that most r&b singers (but it was often true of even jazz singers, e.g., Chris Conner) depend on their producers for the realization of their gifts. They are a gifted group. But most of their work is bursts with so much bogus sentiment that I can't listen to it.
Whitney Houston's trills and octave shifts usually strike me as good humored, showing off maybe, but showing off doesn't bother me per se. I don't mind vanity, egomania in artists and entertainers if they have a distinguishing quality. I don't need to like them or feel they'd say hi to me on the street. Big tangent, particularly when talking about someone like Houston. She does have good antecedents and her pure tone riffs made me a very reluctant fan.
By and large I don't give a damn about lyrics. The big exception is the traditional pop folks like Gershwin, Berlin, Porter where there's lots of clever careful manipulation of meaning and vowels. But many of the great American pop composers in the first half of the century had a clinical sense of prosody. Writing Fascinating Rhythm requires a capable mental ear if if your brother is a genius.
Procul Harum's Keith Reed was an unusually able rock lyricist. And I think Hunter with Mott the Hoople. But most were really pretty pedestrian.
The Beatles often have images that I grab at random out of the song because they suggest something strongly personal to me. But possibly didn't to Lennon or McCarthy.
When I went through my young Bowie fixation I could create oceans of meaning in his least throwaways.
There are lyrics I can't avoid. Jimmy Somerville singing about a gay man in jail chills my blood. I often don't know what Neil Tennant is about until I read his explanation. But I can make a mood out of them and sometimes it is even what he intended. A few are so to the point that it is obvious.
And I love gospel. For me the lyrics are sheetest nonsense. In a general sense being asked Were you there when they crucified my Lord can be very moving. And is. But if it weren't for his delicate, nuanced melisma I wouldn't much care. I love to hear the vowels bent, the liquid consonants stretched out of shape.
Most lyrics are about love and lust. If there's a touching image or an instance of wit I enjoy it but mostly I don't worry about it.
If a singer is able enough she or he should be able to sing in a language I don't know (everything except English) and the shiftings in texture and tone will move me.
All of which proves that while I don't really know any more than you do I can type a hellishly long about it.