Katy Bourne


Saint G & the Odyssey of Scat

POSTED ON September 25, 2011 | POSTED IN: My Blog | 2 Comments

 My head is exploding with scat. And I’m not talking about animal feces. I sure hope that my head wouldn’t be exploding with that. Clearly, if this were the case, I’d be having an altogether different set of problems. Nope, what I’m talking about when I talk about scat is vocal improvisation. Yeah, that

God knows this is not the first time I’ve written about scat. Scat is many things to me. It is the hip dude leaning up against the bar. It’s also a troublemaker. It’s like a piece of sexy lingerie that I’m never sure if I should put on. I like to think I can wear it but at the same time, I don’t want to horrify people. (Um, as if I would wear lingerie in public.) Scat is the piñata that I am forever whacking away at. It’s an elusive dream floating in and out of my musical landscape. It’s a jazz singer’s Holy Grail. When I hear a great scat solo, I am mesmerized. It spins me around and fills me with bliss. Scat has a come hither quality that I can’t resist. No matter what I do, one thing is certain: I am its bitch

 My teacher Greta Matassa (Or “the G” as I affectionately refer to her) is probably one of the best living scat singers today. She’s elevated the art form. As I’ve said before, she should probably have her face carved into the side of Mt. Rushmore. She’s most definitely a wonder. A few days ago, I went to G’s for a lesson, specifically for help with some recent challenges I’m having with my scatting. We rolled up our sleeves and jumped right in. G talked about anticipating changes (as opposed to reacting to them), “maypoling” around the melody line and arpeggiating through chord progressions. She listened to me sing and scat. Per usual, her diagnostics were spot on. She gave me some new techniques to try. While I understood them intellectually, the execution was not exactly pretty. Let me just say that a vocal lesson should be like Vegas; what happens there, stays there. At one point in her feedback to me, G actually uttered the words “yabba, dabba, doo.” When your voice teacher likens you to Fred Flintstone, you know you’re in trouble. Still, it was hilarious.

 I have a dedicated yoga practice and take classes about 3-4 times a week. My yoga teacher can wrap his feet behind his head and walk around on his hands. I watch in awe but know with certainty that I will never be able to accomplish such a yogic feat. Still, I am perfectly comfortable with my imitations on the yoga mat. Scat, however, is a little different. While I know I will probably never be able to achieve the thrilling level of mastery of my most beloved teacher, I do feel driven to reach some level of reasonable proficiency. At the very least, I don’t want to embarrass myself out there.

 Greta records all of our lessons and always sends me home with a CD to listen to for review. I have dozens of these recordings loaded onto my computer. Although it is sometimes a wee bit painful to revisit certain moments in these lessons, it’s pure gold to have the G’s wisdom just a click away. (It’s a little like “in case of emergency, break class.”) On top of being a fan-effing-tastic jazz vocalist and an extraordinary teacher, the G is truly a saint. As I listened to the recording of this last lesson, I pondered as to how many, many singers she has patiently guided through this odyssey known as scat singing. I can only imagine what she’s endured. How much musical indigestion has she had to stomach over the years? How does she listen to us day after day without losing her mind or turning to the bottle? I guess the mark of a true saint is the ability to remain compassionate even in the face of awkward human debacle. Hopefully, we reward her by eventually getting better in our own small and big ways.

 It would be so much easier if I could walk away; if I could just declare myself as a singer who “doesn’t do scat.” (There are probably a few instrumentalists in town who would drop to their knees in gratitude if I were to do so.) I recently met a jazz vocalist who told me that she had no interest in improvising and that all she wanted to do was to deliver the message of the songs from her heart. How liberating! Like running down the street with no pants! If only it were that simple for me. I bring my heart to every tune but I also feel compelled towards a more adventurous ride. Scat is like a bad boyfriend, both titillating and a little dangerous.  I always climb on the back of that motorcycle. Lord help me, I just can’t leave it be.

And so, for better or worse, scat continues. It’s a roller coaster that I get off of and immediately climb back on again. It’s no wonder that I’m a little dizzy a lot of the time. (Or, that could also be from always looking at the small print without my reading glasses on.) Scat is leading me around by the nose. I have no idea where it will take me. I might be a crusty old lady before I get it right. I may very well be sitting on the bandstand at Tula’s, scatting away without my dentures in. If nothing else,  that should take the hard edges off those consonant sounds.

Comments

2 responses to “Saint G & the Odyssey of Scat”

  1. Ian Dylan says:

    You know what that post reminds me of. And, I’m sure that he’s ok not being a saint but, frankly, i’m glad that i’ve learned from someone who’s Almost rediculously tough at times. Alan Dale, He wasn’t my only teacher but, I won’t ever forget his things that he left me with. He’d say things like, Those Brushes, those are not kitchen utensals, you’re not chopping chicken; try it again. Yup, Branford is right – to many of the students of today just get their buts kissed to much just because they play piano or for whatever reason – they are willing to play an instrument that most of us or not, or they are cute, or what have you. Ok; – I feel Much better now;)

  2. […] takes work. So much so that I’m certain that my dogged pursuit of scat singing will eventually land me in the mental hospital. But troubling outcomes aside, I don’t know what would happen if I didn’t practice. Ping-pong, […]

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Katy Bourne is a Jazz Singer and Writer.