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R&B and Gospel Vocalists on Singing Jazz

Will Downing and Lizz Wright offer advice to R&B and gospel singers transitioning into jazz

Lizz Wright (photo by Jesse Kit) for article on R&B singers
Lizz Wright (photo by Jesse Kit)

R&B rewards the grandiose: There’s a reason the appellation “diva” gets tossed around so frequently when discussing the style. And while a soulfully ornamented vocal line can wend its way into the gut and plumb the deepest emotions, the vocal acrobatics associated with R&B singing all too often make for a shallow pyrotechnical show. Despite its spiritual intentions, the same can be said for gospel, where many singers seem to labor under the impression that octave leaps and eardrum-piercing shouts are the only way for their words to reach the heavens.

Both styles have, of course, yielded their share of gifted jazz singers who’ve brought valuable lessons from R&B and gospel to bear. But entering the vocal-jazz tradition with either background can mean shedding some bad habits, as vocalists Lizz Wright and Will Downing recently shared.

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