Category Archives: Scat singing

Scat singing

Although it’s associated almost exclusively with jazz, singers outside that genre have employed scat singing. [Check the conclusion of this post for a more complete explanation of the term.] Jackie Wilson used the technique effectively many times, although always in relatively short passages. You hear it on a live performance audiotape late in his career, as well as on the videotape of one of his last performances (below), on “That’s Why (I Love You So).” The “scat bits” appear at the 1:50 and 2:00 marks.

There are certain features of some Jackie Wilson recordings that I particularly like. For example, I love male backup singers with Jackie’s voice, and although there are relatively few songs that use them, many of those that do are among my favorites. These include all the versions I’ve heard of “She’s Alright.”

But I am also particularly fond of Jackie’s scat singing, and one of my favorite examples of it comes at the opening and closing of “When Will Our Day Come,” which I always think of as “Jackie’s civil rights song.” You can listen to this marvelous recording here.

You can also listen to Jackie interjecting a scat line into his masterful “It’s So Fine” (here). Frankly, I have no idea where to draw the proper limits of scat singing, but I include the much-loved opening of “So Much” (here), which my sister thought was some sort of “weird instrument” playing.

One more for now: “By the Light of the Silvery Moon” (here) is to many people’s surprise the flip side of “Reet Petite” and dates from Jackie’s first recording session with Dick Jacobs, who was delighted with Jackie’s scatting during the bridge. Jackie vocalizes so high that his biographer noted, “it sounds like a woman yodeling.”

Sammy and Ella’s tutorial. Scat singing (or scatting, a term which may be out of vogue now) is singing nonsense syllables or sounds or words that do not make literal sense. It allows the singer to play at being an instrumentalist and improvise “away from the lyrics.” Scat singing belongs properly to the world of jazz singing, where Ella Fitzgerald was the unchallenged queen of practitioners. Look at this old Ed Sullivan Show clip for a tutorial on the art form given by Miss Fitzgerald and the enormously talented Mr. Sammy Davis Jr. Sammy starts the scat singing at roughly the 1:23 mark

Keith Channer in St. Petersburg. The video below is an additional and very fine illustration of scat singing from our fellow Jackie Wilson aficionado, singer/pianist Keith Channer. Subscribe to Keith’s YouTube channel for a variety of musical treats in not only jazz, but also rock and other popular music genres. Don’t miss his wonderful tributes to Jackie Wilson (I gave him a hard time in my comment there, but he does a great job on “Baby Workout”) and Little Richard (“Good Golly Miss Molly”). Keith, who has recently returned from a tour in China, is featured below on an earlier tour, accompanied by Russian musicians as he performs “Take the A-Train.”