Top 5 Jazz Vocal Performances Of 2011

Norah Jones kicks off KPLU’s list of great vocal performances in 2011. Courtesy of the artist.

Written by Nick Francis from Jazz24

How many ways can you sing a song? Why do some pieces work only with certain vocalists? Why is it so rare to have the right fit between a singer and a song? Is it simply a matter of arrangement, or does the style and sensibility of a particular vocalist lend itself to making a piece “work”?

These five tunes — all from excellent 2011 releases — exemplify how great singers and great songs fit together. In each case, the vocal sound, style and personality of the singer slips into the theme and structure of each tune like a proverbial glove.

5 Awesome Jazz Vocal Performances From KPLU in 2011


Song: “Do It Again”

Artist: Sophie Millman

Album: In The Moonlight

Legend has it that Marilyn Monroe once sang this George Gershwin tune to a large gathering of Marines at Camp Pendleton in the 1950s and nearly caused a riot. Gershwin himself first played the song to stir up action at parties, and described it as “innocently sensual.” Sophie Millman is subtler and more sophisticated than Monroe, but her phrasing, punctuated with purrs, tickles and moans, is a knowing enticement, with a little nod to innocence.



Sachal Vasandani

Song: “All The Way”

Artist: Sachal Vasandani

Album: Hi-Fly

It’s hard not to reference Sinatra with this song, but the young Vasandani’s strongest skill is singing ballads, and doing so with subtle and tight phrasing, all wrapped around his beautiful, velvety voice. He nails this one.


Song: “Ill Wind”

Artist: Charlie Haden Quartet West featuring Norah Jones

Album: Sophisticated Ladies

“Ill Wind” is all about the blues and melancholy, a tune that has Norah Jones written all over it. This is one of her absolute best vocal performances, as well as a standout from the great recent Charlie Haden Quartet West recording. It’s hard to believe that Come Away With Me is nearly a decade old; this performance shows clearly how Jones’ vocal work has carried on.


Song: “Samurai Cowboy”

Artist: Kurt Elling

Album: Gate

Jazz raconteur, scat singer and beat-boxer; sophisticated man-about-town and lovable goofball; philosopher and poet, romantic and comic. How does any song fit into the polyglot world of Kurt Elling? The answer lies in “Samurai Cowboy,” a mix of all of the above. Bassist Marc Johnson wrote the melody, which Elling playfully transforms into a rhythmic, twisty, philosophical treatise, referencing Descartes, the physics of aerobics and aliens inside your mind.


Song: “Light My Fire”

Artist: Eliane Elias

Album: Light My Fire

The Girl From Ipanema meets Jim Morrison. Elias turns the Lizard King’s rock anthem into a slow samba groove and delivers its message of desire with quiet, focused whispers.


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