Tongue twister


Does this mean anything to you? It does to jazz vocalist Ori Dagan.

The North Toronto resident says scat singing, a form of vocal improvisation that uses nonsensical syllables to imitate instruments, was his introduction to his life’s passion: jazz.

And it’s what led him to produce his debut CD, S’cat Got My Tongue, in 2009.

“I have to approach the music the same way a saxophone player would or a trumpet player would,” the 28-year-old says as he prepares to take the stage at a local pub in celebration of the digital release of his album.

“It’s like speaking the jazz language. In order to speak a language, you have to immerse yourself in it. Eventually, I just kind of developed a vocabulary.

“The thing is, it takes time.”

For Dagan, that’s meant about 10 years on the scene, playing gigs wherever he could, and studying the greats — local and international, past and present.

As influences Dagan cites Louie Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Anita O’Day, whom Dagan had the chance to meet in Toronto and New York before her passing in 2006.

His debut CD reflects his love and respect for swing and bebop jazz in particular, as he tries his hand at standards like “Swinging On a Star” and “Here’s That Rainy Day”.

Dagan wrote the title track.

The road to where he is today started at 4 in Israel, where Dagan was born. He asked his non-musical parents for piano lessons.

In 1989, Dagan’s family immigrated to Canada, settling in North York. By 16, Dagan says, he had all but lost interest in tickling the ivories.

“I was really only doing it because my parents wanted me to,” he says.

In high school Dagan developed a love for the written word, leading him to study English at the University of Toronto. His heart soon led him back to music.

“I bought this CD at Chapters, Ella Live in Berlin, and it was the live aspect of the jazz that really got me into it,” he says. “And it was the scat singing, for sure.”

Studying with music teacher Bob Mover, Dagan learned about song form and improvisation – the core of jazz, he says.

“That’s what I love about it the most,” says Dagan. “The fact that you can sing the same song every night and it’ll be different.”

Dagan continued to hone his craft, studying classical and jazz at York University and Humber College.

Dagan says making an album was a necessary step in his evolution not only as a vocalist but a performer.

“Most of my motivation comes from an audience and live performance so it seemed very strange to me to go into a studio and not have an audience,” he says.

“But the reason I wanted to do it is because it’s the mark of being a professional and it’s the only way you can really get to do more performing.”

Though it can be tough to make it in the music industry — much less with a genre of music that some say reached the pinnacle of its popularity 40 years before Dagan was born — he says jazz music’s appeal is timeless.

“There’s lots of times where I feel I can’t believe I do this, like this is insane, what kind of life did I choose?

“And always, as soon as I get up there and I’m making music, I have no doubt in my mind that this is what I should be doing.”