5 Essential Female Jazz Vocal CDs
Collectors and aficionados often overlook jazz vocal recordings in their quests to enhance their collections. In my observation, while the great jazz singers are admired, their seminal recordings are not valued as highly as recordings by Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk and other great instrumentalists. I’ve never understood the disproportionate fascination with instrumental over vocal jazz, particularly when vocalists were often backed by iconic players, either in small combos or in orchestras. In fact, two of the singers on this list also happen to be superb pianists.
When I began to seriously explore jazz, I was particularly drawn to great performances by female vocalists. Legends such as Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Washington spent as much time on my CD player as did Miles, Trane, and Monk. Recordings by these singers seem more accessible – the material chosen is often older and more recognizable, and the tunes tend to be shorter. I like a nice three or four-minute jazzy show tune to balance out the 10 or 12-minute jams with multiple solos. In my ears, there is equal time for both and a playlist featuring equal time for vocalists is musical nirvana for me.
Prolific female jazz singers seem to outnumber men, with a vast back catalog of recordings to explore. The recordings I’ve listed here I prefer to listen to on CD. My taste in jazz – whether as a radio host, as a live vinyl DJ or as a fan — is a balance of accessibility and authenticity. When people new to jazz hear a recording, will they find it compelling and listenable? When seasoned jazz-heads hear it, will they think, “ooh, this is real jazz”? I want the answer for both audiences to be “yes.” I think these five CDs fit that bill.