Welcome to Blog #3 in my series titled “Jazz for the Classical Vocalist!”
So many choices! Now that you have chosen a short list of tunes to begin learning, you will need to figure out the best key for your voice. If there is one mistake that I see classical singers make, it is choosing keys that are way too high. It doesn't matter if you're a coloratura soprano, you'll be singing jazz closer to your speaking register. This performance practice stems from the widespread use of microphones in jazz and popular singing. You don't need to belt out a high note to reach that last row of seats. Your job will be to make those folks in the back feel like you are right there singing to them. This requires singing in a way that has the intimacy of spoken language.
Many jazz standards were originally written for Broadway during an era that the singing style was largely “legit” in the head voice. Therefore, the original keys are uncomfortably high for most female jazz singers, but they often work just fine for males. You'll often find that most standards just need to come down a perfect 4th or 5th to work for most female voices. You'll find that most Latin tunes are already in comfortable singing keys.
To find your key, start by finding the lowest note in the song. Then take the key down to the point that the lowest note is towards the bottom of your range when you are fully warmed-up. It's better for your band if you choose a key that is closely related to the original key. If the original key is in Bb, F is a much better key for the band than E. If you can, try to stick with flat keys. Since the most popular wind instruments in jazz are in Bb or Eb, jazz musicians play in flat keys ways more often that sharp keys.
Homework – Take the four songs that you chose from my list of 100 Jazz Standards for Singers and figure out the keys that you think are best for your voice.