In 2008 I had the pleasure of interviewing Jon Hendricks for Jazz Inside Magazine. The legendary”James Joyce of Jive” was extremely generous with his time (we talked for over two hours, including his impromptu, a capella performance of his classic lyric to J.J. Johnson’s “Lament”). He was also not shy about sharing his opinions.
One of the topics we touched on was the dearth of young male jazz singers coming up through the ranks. While we acknowledged the formidable gifts of Kurt Elling and Kevin Mahogany, we lamented the fact that there didn’t seem to be a lot of others. The young women singing jazz seem to outnumber the men by a 20:1 margin.
Mr. Hendricks offered the theory that in our 21st century culture, jazz singing is not considered a “serious profession” even in the entertainment world and that men of all stripes are pushed toward vocations that will “bring home the bacon”. Whether that is the case or not can be debated. The paucity of guys under 40 who are truly singing jazz, cannot.
However as the title of this post indicates, there is hope on the horizon. Over the past three years, there have been a number of younger men that have showed up on the scene who are quite good. Many are as versed in hip-hop as they are in the standards and they bring to the stage a sound that is fresh and promising.
Here are five that I find interesting. These are not the only five good young male jazz singers, just a few who have my ear at the moment. I have also cheated a bit in that one is slightly over 40 but he is too good to pass up because of that minor technicality.
In alphabetical order:
Born in Israel and raised in Toronto, Mr. Dagan is also a classically trained pianist. He is the best scat singer of this quintet and his improvisations, which have at times taken him from English to Hebrew and back again, are often a joy for these jaded ears. He has two albums out, which put the fun back in jazz singing: S’Cat Got My Tongue and Less Than Three
The likely breakout star of this group, Mr. James has dropped successful albums on the jazz and the hip-hop sides of the street. His appearances on Letterman, Leno and other mainstream shows have helped to juice his rise. But make no mistake about it. This cat can SANG. Think of the crooning ability of Al Green mixed with jazz sensibility of Bill Henderson and your on the right track. His latest album, No Beginning No End on Blue Note, is a strong mixture of multiple genres. However to really hear José James the vocalist, you should also check out For All We Know, a duet album of standards that he did in 2010 with pianist Jef Neve, on Impulse! Records.
Mr. Porter has become an “overnight sensation” at age 41. Though he doesn’t have the mainstream profile of José James, he has turned the jazz world on his ear and with his powerful yet vulnerable tenor voice, he has even made some inroads into the adult R&B world, as evidenced by his 2013 R&B Grammy nomination. His two albums 2010′s Water and last year’s Be Good are standouts, that earned a place on their respective year’s Curt’s Cafe “Best Of” list.
Chicago born, Atlanta bred and now living in NYC, Milton Suggs has garnered attention not only for his powerful baritone voice but for his impressive gifts as a lyricist, which he fully displayed on his latest album, the appropriately titled Lyrical, Vol. 1 ( a Curt’s Cafe Best Jazz of 2012 selection). Mr. Suggs lyrics evince a fearless creativity that is reminiscent of Jon Hendricks but with a hip-hop undercurrent that should help to keep those of his own generation listening. Definitely someone to watch. Also check out his previous album Things To Come.
Blessed with boyish good looks and a smooth, crooning vocal timbre. Mr. Vasandani could have easily opted to go the route of slicksters like Michael Bublé. Instead, the fact that he has toured and recorded with Mr. Hendricks and he has appeared as a guest vocalist on recent albums by artists such as Gerald Clayton and Don Braden, says a lot about Mr. Vasandani’s artistic integrity. Yes, he can sing “The Very Thought of You” in a style that is swathed in velvet but then he will turn right around and bop his way through an impressive rendition of “Monk’s Dream”; something that the Bublés of the world wouldn’t even try. Check out his two most recent albums, We Move (2009) and Hi-Fly (2011).