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An Introduction to Scat Singing

How to doo bah

Anita O'Day
Anita O'Day (photo: Tad Hershorn)
Bobby McFerrin
Louis Armstrong at Carnegie Hall, circa Feb. 1947
Roseanna Vitro

Scat singing is vocal improvisation with wordless syllables, combining improvised melodies, motifs and rhythmic patterns using the voice as an instrument, not unlike a trumpet or saxophone.

Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan improvised with intelligence, passion and wit, yet they never lost sight of their lyrics. Jazz ambassador Armstrong, with a voice of gravel and sunshine, is widely known as the cat who first scatted “ooh bop sha bam” after his sheet music hit the studio floor. However, a singer does not have to use scat syllables to phrase like a horn player, as Billie Holiday would often emulate her musical soulmate, Ben Webster, with lyrics.

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Originally Published