Why jazz vocals are cringe

As a guitar player who loves some jazz, I am sad that jazz guitar is mainly bad. Breezin‘? More like cheesin’! OMG funny. Even the absolute best jazz players are 80% weak. Wes Montgomery’s recordings are mainly easy listening. Pat Metheny is unacceptable at all times. John Scofield? Dude. I have listened closely to all the jazz guitar gods and though I have heard glimmers of good they are scarce.

Yes, right, there are exceptions but they are so few that they prove the rule. Charlie Christian in the late 30s. Julian Lage. The soul faction, like Charles Earland, but they weren’t jazz proper. Django, but his concept was an evolutionary offshoot.

What do the exceptions have in common? Their sound. They had (and in the case of Lage, have) good taste. They were/are good on an artistic level.

Vocalists? No. Jazz vocals must not be tolerated. And no, not Ella Fitzgerald. And not Chet Baker. Billie Holiday is the only fish in the sea. That’s a lot of non-fish swimming around.

Sax on the other hand is mainly worthy. To suck you have to work at it. Kenny G, obviously. But otherwise even mediocrities are pretty decent. It is physically impossible to play jazz baritone badly.

Jazz bass has an even better record. 95% rad. Even this rando journeyman makes me happy.

Wait, you need a science experiment? A pretty decent jazz singer with a pretty decent jazz bass player, where the vocals are painful but the bass is a complete pleasure? You’re welcome: Sheila Jordan and Harvie Schwartz.

But wait, this only applies with standup bass and not electric. Electric fretless jazz bass playing is usually painful.

So here’s my hypothesis, and I mean it as a general Theory of Everything for jazz: it’s in the instrument. Jazz came into being because of certain instruments and good jazz will only ever exist on those instruments.

The obstacle is that good vocals or guitar or electric bass on a jazz tune turn it into something else. Soul jazz can have incredible guitar, and that makes it soul. Lonnie Smith is jazz until the minute he gets a killer guitar behind him. Kassa Overall is a jazz band with great vocals, and that makes it not jazz.

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