Is there a word for a group doing a cover of an originally instrumental tone, where the vocalist carefully matches the original instrumental solos' pitch and rhythm?

For instance, here is a Weather Report performance of the Joe Zawinul composition Birdland: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pqashW66D7o

And here's Manhattan Transfer covering the same tune vocally: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q1nj6Yla_Vg

Another example: here is Blue Rondo à la Turk by Dave Brubeck: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9GgmGLPbWU

And here is the same tune as covered by Al Jarreau: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UFf2w7O3bDo

  • Maybe, if you're talking about pieces sung sans instruments (other than the human voice) altogether, "a cappella, adv., adj., and n.: A. adv. 1. Without instrumental accompaniment (originally applied to choral music). ... B. adj. Of, relating to, or designating unaccompanied vocal music. In earlier use as postmodifier. ... C. n. A cappella singing, now esp. (chiefly U.S.) regarded as a genre of popular music. Also: a musical piece sung a cappella." Manhattan Transfer, for example, is renowned for this (C) especially. 'Vocalese' is a jazz style of singing, with or without instrumental backup.
    – JEL
    Commented Aug 8, 2016 at 18:20

1 Answer 1


This style is called vocalese. From Wikipedia:

Vocalese is a style or musical genre of jazz singing wherein words are sung to melodies that were originally part of an all-instrumental composition or improvisation. Whereas scat singing uses improvised nonsense syllables, such as "bap ba dee dot bwee dee" in solos, vocalese uses lyrics, either improvised or written and set to pre-existing instrumental solos, sometimes in the form of a tribute to the original instrumentalist. The word "vocalese" is a play on the musical term "vocalise" and the suffix "-ese", meant to indicate a sort of language.

  • 1
    BTW, I'd finished writing up this whole question when I found the answer; rather than discarding it all I decided to answer it myself. Feel free to contribute better answers; I'll choose the best in a few days. Commented Aug 6, 2016 at 16:37
  • There is also scat : jazz singing with nonsense syllables
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Aug 6, 2016 at 16:44
  • That's an orthogonal term. For instance, some of Al Jarreau's singing in the above example is scat, some of it is real english words, but all (most?) of it is vocalese. Commented Aug 6, 2016 at 17:07
  • Re: your comment above: well done! I for one have to thank you for not discarding the question :-) Commented Oct 4, 2018 at 21:55

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