I sing slow. I really do. No matter what the tempo or so…my aim is to make it sound even slower. In early July, I had a duo gig with Dom Minasi at Le Grand Dakar in Brooklyn. Dom is a great player with a penchant for fast runs and forward propulsive rhythm. The opposite of my way of dealing with rhythmic phrasing when I sing. I look for weird holes to accent in the music and it’s waaaaay behind the beat usually. It does depend on what’s happening musically as well but. generally I would say it’s the way I do things. ..and it’s funny that it developed this way.
When I started out I was part of a weekly vocal workshop at the Williamsburg Music Center (Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, NY) run by bassist/guitarist Gerry Eastman. After hanging out there for a couple of years religiously I managed to get a bit better so Gerry would have me sing a few tunes on some of his gigs. He always complained about us vocalists and these ballads we loved to sing. Some days the vocal workshop would sound like a long sad tale of unrequited love, repeated over and over again.
One night on one of these gigs, I decided I knew best and went and opened the set with a ballad. The audience was so kind and responded warmly. They listened and when I was done, they applauded enthusiastically. Gerry smiled the smile of a happy teacher and said “what’s the next tune you’d like to do?”
I said “My One and Only Love.”
He gave me a stern look “But you just did a ballad…didn’t you”
“yeah…but people dug it. I think it it will work” I said
Chuckling, he said “Alright…My One and Only Love it is.”
I had the audience and the moment the intro was played, I saw their eyes glaze over but I was adamant and sang my little heart out. After the set ended Gerry asked me if I noticed how everyone was eating, chewing and talking all over my shit and how the moment I did something more uptempo, the audience came back. I noticed how they turned away. I heard the clamor of silverware and loud conversation all over my shit as he said. He went on to say that if you’re going to sing anything slow tune…it has to say something. It can’t just be pretty or about just hitting the notes. What are you saying…
That day and that discussion had me busy for quite a while. I also had trouble singing uptempo tunes like “Cherokee” because I never could phrase things without sounding rushed. It was an issue I battled with for a long time. How to phrase lyrics so that they’re clearly understood while swinging at a uber-fast tempo.
My solution…pick the right tempo for what I want to say with the song. How to do that? How do you know what is right. How can you sing slow and hold an audiences attention. What is so wonderful about singing slowere tempos in the first place. What are some cool ways to figure out the tempo