Midweek Music Break: Kelsie Saison, ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’

Kelsie SaisonWhen I’m putting together my annual list of Christmas music here, I draw most inspiration (of course) from my existing music collection. But I also try to keep my eyes open for other, newer sources; many music-marketing sites, for instance, offer Christmas music free or for a nominal charge, and these downloads often come from from interesting newcomers. That’s how I came across Kelsie Saison this year: at the NoiseTrade site for musicians and authors hoping to find an audience.

There’s not a whole lot of information online about Saison. She is, or recently was, a student at Belmont University, and she currently lives, or used to live, in Nashville (where Belmont’s located). The image posted here is the one featured almost exclusively on other sites. Her recordings are available from other sites as well as NoiseTrade — at SoundCloud, for instance. She’s got a Facebook page, and a Twitter account (at least, I think it’s hers)…

but the music — three EPs of Christmas music — all seems to have come out in 2013. That’s also when her last Facebook post appeared; her Twitter feed is more active, after a fashion, but even there she hasn’t posted anything for months.

Given the untimeliness of the little information I could find, I don’t know if we’ll ever get to hear more from her. But in the meantime, we’ve got the three EPs. “Just” Christmas tunes, as I said — with a twist: she plays the piano and sings, and it’s jazz: lightly swinging, slightly old-fashioned, easy-listening jazz.

Her voice naturally suggests, as her Facebook page says, that she’s fond of Ella Fitzgerald, Norah Jones, Diana Krall, Michael Buble, and Frank Sinatra. In today’s little gem, in particular, she seems to be channeling Fitzgerald: the song is a little over four minutes long, but she dispenses with the lyrics after the first ninety seconds or so. Thereafter, she scats through all but the last seconds of the remainder.

Scat singing is an interesting little back corner of music history. No one really knows where it came from, although theories abound. Louis Armstrong claimed to have invented it himself in 1926:

According to Armstrong, when he was recording “Heebie Jeebies,” soon to be a national bestseller, with his band The Hot Five, his music fell to the ground. Not knowing the lyrics to the song, he invented a gibberish melody to fill time, expecting the cut to be thrown out in the end, but that take of the song was the one released.

(Wikipedia)

Armstrong’s claim, like pretty much anyone else’s with a theory, almost certainly relies more on legend and “common sense” than on actual historic fact. Wherever it came from, scat just blends the concept of vocals with that of instrumentals: it turns the human voice into a purely auditory device. In that way, it extends the voice — a particularly potent technique, I think, when used by someone who plays an instrument in addition to singing. Says Barry Keith Grant in Representing Jazz, edited by Krin Gabbard:

Scatting, unlike vocalese, does not taint the music with the impurity of denotation… Just as one musician explained the title of Charlie Parker’s “Klacktoveedsedsteen” by declaring “It’s a sound, man. A sound,” so scat singing, in avoiding the use of words, is seen to strive for the abstraction, the purity, of the music itself.

By the standard expressed there, I think Kelsie Saison’s scatting through the second half of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas!” (she uses an exclamation point there) succeeds very well. I love the way it sounds.

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