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"Ella and Her Fella Frank" co-star Rene Croan explains scat singing. 

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First popularized by jazz legend Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong, scat singing is essentially vocal improvising using nonsense syllables instead of lyrics. Scat singers often play with rhythm, phrasing and melody in a way that suggests a jazz instrument, but there are as many ways to scat as there are singers.

Sometimes, while scatting to one song, a singer will even bring in a bit of a melody from another song. "It's just musical conversation," explains Rene Croan, scatter extraordinaire and co-star of the new Barksdale show. "It's like quoting a line from a movie that everyone knows, but you're doing it musically."

In preparing for her role as Ella Fitzgerald, Croan studied the recordings of the great singer. Fitzgerald's scatting was reminiscent of a horn, Croan says, which is different from her own style. And with musical careers nearly 60 years apart, Croan and Fitzgerald had vastly different musical influences. "Back then, there wasn't the influence of soul, or pop or rock," Croan says. "Those things are all in my brain, but they weren't part of Ella's [experience]." As Croan rehearsed her songs for the show, she says, she had to continually ask herself, "What would she do? What would she hear right here?"

Croan says that Fitzgerald's distinctive style included a lot of "z" sounds, as in "zoit de doit." "She kind of kept her mouth and lips closed, in an 'oh' sound," Croan says. "She stayed away from 'ahs.' And there were certain rhythmic things she does ... the way she swings a song. ... If you know her well enough, you can hear one measure and know that's Ella."

At first, Croan crafted her scatting sections note for note, to make certain that she sounded like Fitzgerald. Since then, she has grown to trust her understanding of Fitzgerald and is now able to improvise in a style that isn't her own. It helps that Fitzgerald has always been one of Croan's favorite singers. "To me," says Croan admiringly, "Ella Fitzgerald was just a
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