Scat singing is vocalizing either wordlessly or with nonsense words and syllables as employed by jazz singers who create the equivalent of an instrumental solo using only the voice. Thus it is a type of mouth music.
While the use of nonsense syllables in singing long predates scat, scat singing is distinguished by the fact that rather than using the sounds to exactly reproduce the melodic line, improvisations are made with the melody and rhythm, much as in other jazz improvisation.
Before the national spread of jazz, a type of scat singing was already in use by ragtime vocalists. Ragtime pioneer Ben Harney and New Orleans pianist Tony Jackson were said to be scat singing in the early years of the 20th century. One early master of ragtime scat singing was Gene Greene who recorded scat choruses in his song "King of the Bungaloos" several times from 1909 on. Popular entertainer Al Jolson even scatted through a few bars in the middle of his 1911 recording of "That Haunting Melody".
A frequently repeated legend alleges that Louis Armstrong invented scat singing on the spot when he dropped the lyric sheet while singing on his recording of "Heebie Jeebies" in 1926; the story is false and Armstrong himself made no such claim. Jazz musicians Don Redman and Red Nichols both recorded examples of scat earlier than Armstrong. However the record "Heebie Jeebies" and subsequent Armstrong recordings introduced scat singing to a wider audience and did much to popularize the style. Armstrong was an experimental and innovative singer who fooled around with all sorts of sounds, and improvised with his voice as he did on his instrument. In one famous example, Armstrong scatted on "I'm A Ding Dong Daddy From Dumas" where he shouts out "I done forgot the words" in the middle of recording before taking off in scat.
According to Dick Higgins, "In Black American music there is a sound poetry tradition, possibly based originally on work calls, which we find [transformed] into the scat singing of the popular music of the 1930s, in the long nonsense-like passages in Cab Calloway's singing of 'Minnie the Moocher', for example."
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The term skat is used in Jamaican music for a verbal representation of a popular guitar sound. The master Jamaican guitarist Ernest Ranglin, said that "the offbeat guitar scratching that he and other musicians played was referred to as 'skat! skat! skat!'" Some authorities believe that this term is the source of the name of ska music, which was a predecessor to reggae.