It Ain’t Necessarily Robert Plant, but you can still hear every word

Cab Calloway needs no introduction. He’s another master of precise enunciation. Even when he’s scatting nonsense syllables, each one has a clear beginning and a clear end. Listen to him guiding his audience, step by step, through Gershwin’s convoluted song:

The art of scat singing is to make nonsense syllables meaningful. This involves phrasing as well as melody, so clarity is important. Take the word “scattywah,” for example. Cab Calloway invests the word with meaning, even though you won’t find “scattywah” in any dictionary. Not even Cab’s own Hepster’s Dictionary.

Cab clearly relishes every single syllable that he sings, nonsense or not. Listen to him bending and stretching the English language into wonderful new shapes in St James Infirmary:

There’s an art to playing with English to suit your purpose. Your audience will only appreciate the game if you make the rules clear to them. If you’re inventing new words, mark their boundaries clearly. If you’re singing old words differently, season that difference with understandable words, so that your audience feels secure enough to enjoy themselves.

© Sing Better English, 2014

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