Summer Shorts 38: Later Life Learning from Singers Adapting Vocal Range.

Driving home from Niagara recently, listening to Sarah Vaughan sing on the live album from Paris, In the City of Lights released twenty years ago, I was one more time in a state of awe of her vocal range, one moment deep, practically operatic and the next soaring playfully in a scat chase.

The concert was actually recorded in 1985 five years before Vaughan’s death in 1990. Vaughan was a mere sixty-one at this time of the Paris recording and my guess is that if she had lived a longer life, she would have still brought the house down.

No doubt, that because I had just attended and spoken at the Art of Ageing Forum at Niagara College, where topics such as neuroplasticity and the positive effects of mindfulness were still playing tunes in the back of my mind, I got to thinking about what we might learn from singers adapting their vocal range in their later years. Singers such as Vaughan.

Maybe a stretch, but what a great metaphor for adapting through our later life course, like the singer with their career repertoire, play list if you will. If you listen over time to the same masterful singers live in the same song, how they alter their phrasing, their vocal register, you get the sense they know how to stay true to themselves in the song while their voice changes as they age, even as they interpret the feeling differently.

While thinking about this before writing, I decided to do a quick google on voice adaptation and aging – and serendipitously I found this June 2nd, 2019 Star Tribune article How Tony Bennett and other singers preserve their voices as they age. This was cool as I did hear Tony Bennett sing live at Toronto’s Royal York Hotel in 1984. He’ turns 93 on August 3rd this year.

“Tony Bennett sounds ageless”, and as the article goes on to mention other singers, Bennett talks of “a voice technique used by opera singers that he learned early in his career.”

Mel Tormé, the velvet fog as he was nick named, is another example of someone whose voice adaptation worked so well. In 1995, I heard him sing in concert (and play drums). His wispy voice sounded more at ease in the fog when compared to listening to some of his early career recordings. Sadly, he passed away four years later of a stroke at age 73.

Thanks goodness for recordings. Here are some, from my top three favourites that I recommend.

Turn down the lights. Pour some cocktails.

In the City of Lights  – Sarah Vaughan

Gershwin Live – Sarah Vaughan

Velvet & Brass – Mel Tormé

Duets 2 – Tony Bennett   

The Tony Bennett / Bill Evans Album

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