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Don't fly me to the moon

Standards are out, Dylan is in. John Fordham on the new women of jazz

Billie Holiday once said: "I can't stand to sing the same song the same way two nights in succession... if you can, then it ain't music, it's close-order drill or exercise, or yodelling, or something, but it ain't music."

 Holiday was a jazz singer, devoted to a form of interpretation in which the quirks and even the imperfections of the performer are the virtues, in which practice and preparation are intended to make performances unpredictable rather than flawless. With millions of dollars of record industry cash behind the still-ascending Diana Krall, and even Robbie Williams putting on a tie to front a swing big-band, you might think the jazz singers' message - that spontaneity is the lifeblood of performance - has finally been heard. But although these high-profile stars may alert the public to a different way of singing, their most celebrated works are not about spontaneity, but about its hard-nosed, product-placed, shrewdly marketed opposite. In the clubs and little theatres and on new recordings, however, an absorbing if lower-profile cluster of creative vocalists are at work. They may not be the new Billie Holidays, but they share an enthusiasm for improvising, for leading rather than following fashions, and for finding material that resonates with their feelings, not a market niche. 






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