Since October 6, 2019, Joan Merrill has produced a weekly radio show titled The Vocalists (now called The Great American Songbook) for jazz radio station WETF in South Bend, Indiana. Her program pays tribute to the classic vocalists and songwriters from jazz's Golden Age, the period roughly 1920 to 1960. This website presents many of those shows as well as their historical context. It provides a comprehensive overview of this period of American popular music that some say is the richest in our history.

JM JAZZ - "The Great American Songbook" airs every Wednesday at 8 AM

and repeats Saturday at 5 PM and Sunday at midnight ET on WETF 105.7

and live streaming on

How Jazz singing Evolved

What is jazz?

From Africa, jazz got its rhythm, "blues", and traditions of playing or singing in one's own expressive way. From Europe, jazz got its harmony and instruments. Both used improvisation, which became a large part of jazz. Jazz is generally characterized by swing and blue notes, call and response vocals, polyrhythms, and improvisation.

What is a jazz singer?

A singer whose vocal technique is similar to that of a musical instrument, and whose singing has a strong jazz feeling, chiefly imparted through phrasing, melodic improvisation, and rhythmic subtlety. Although some jazz singers scat, it is not a required technique.

What is scatting?

In scat singing, the singer improvises melodies and rhythms using the voice as an instrument rather than a speaking medium. Ella Fitzgerald is considered the master of the art.


What is Jazz singing anyway?

The Singers Table of Contents

The Great American Songbook

The Songwriters Table of Contents

"The Great American Songbook” is the canon of the most important and influential American popular songs and jazz standards from the early 20th century. Often referred to as "the standards," these songs were created for Broadway theatre, musical theatre, and Hollywood musicals -- sometimes by musician-composers. "The standards" became the material for jazz groups and vocalists and are still being performed and recorded. A perfect illustration of the lasting appeal of these songs is the collaboration of Tony Bennett with contemporary singers such as Lady Gaga. Below is their recording “But Beautiful” for a new album.


"But Beautiful"
Jimmy Van Heusen-Johnny Burke