“I don’t want to sing a song the same way every night.” So Ori Dagan tells me in an interview, and it might as well be his motto.
The Toronto jazz singer may have had classical training at York University, but his true calling was always jazz and scat singing.
Dagan, 28, will release his debut CD on Oct. 24 at Chalker’s Pub on Marlee Avenue in Toronto. S’Cat Got My Tongue blends his love of jazz standards with his love affair with scat, the improv-heavy song genre in which the singer makes up sounds and syllables on the spot.
It’s rare to see anyone under-30 dabbling in a style associated with 1920s fedoras, finger-snaps and Ella Fitzgerald. It’s even odder to spot a male jazz singer scatting his way through a walking bass line. But Dagan says jazz always spoke to him. “Improvising makes jazz interesting,” he says. “I find it energizing and a fun challenge.” He adds that a singer can offer a riff to an audience in many ways, and it’s never the same tune twice.
He not only scats in English, but Hebrew as well.
“I’m Israeli, so it makes sense to throw in some Hebrew in there,” Dagan says, laughing.
Perfecting scat is no easy task, Dagan admits. He has to be careful about what vowels to emote during his improve singing. He also learned a valuable lesson from his past few years of scatting: “Vowels are emotion, syllables are information.” He likens scat to sound poetry, in which the rhythm impacts the music more so than the literal meaning of the words.
Dagan isn’t all scat. On his newly pressed CD, he belts out jazz arrangements and show tunes, such as I Wish I Were in Love Again from Babes in Arms. “I try to make the songs my own,” Dagan says, “even if the song is well-known to jazz fans.”
Dagan came to jazz during a stint at University of Toronto studying English. He then enrolled in York’s music program, focusing on jazz vocals and classical voice. “After a year of classical study, every teacher told me to pursue opera,” he recalls. So much for that plan.
After York, Dagan went on to Humber College to take several songwriting and voice classes. He was inspired by other Toronto jazz singers, such as Laila Biali and Sophia Perlman. “Humber has a great program, I would love to teach there someday.”
Now focused on the CD release and getting the album in as many hands as possible, Dagan is hungry to tour. So far, he’s been playing at almost every jazz club in the city. “I have my sights set on Japan,” he says. “Tokyo has hundreds of jazz clubs – I’m interested in experiencing that kind of passion for jazz.”
For now, Torontonians will get their fill of this scat master. Dagan knows he’s immersed in a bygone era, but if anyone can resurrect jazz singing and make it hip for the under-30 set, it’d be a young Israeli-Canadian with a penchant for Billie Holiday.