Sarah Vaughan - vocals; Carl Shroeder - piano; Frank de la Rosa - bass; Jimmy Cobb - drums; Guest: Dizzy Gillespie - trumpet
One of the elite vocalists in jazz, ranked with Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday in the very top echelon of female jazz singers, Sarah Vaughan possessed a perfectly controlled vibrato and wide expressive abilities, along with incredible command that allowed her to do anything she wanted with her voice. A veteran of the bebop era who had come up in the Billy Eckstine big band of the mid 1940s, by 1975 Vaughan was in the autumn of her years. The soaring soprano of her youth had dropped in register to a sultry contralto range, and she carried herself with regal bearing to match her nickname, "The Divine One."
To open this Great American Music Hall concert, Sarah comes out scatting freely in signature husky tones on an up-tempo swinging rendition of the jazz standard "I'll Remember April," a Gene de Paul tune introduced in 1942 (in the unlikely place of an Abbott & Costello film) and subsequently covered by everyone from Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, and Sonny Rollins to Nat "King" Cole, Dinah Washington, and Frank Sinatra. From there she shifts into a sublime reading of the mournful ballad "Lover Man (Oh Where Can You Be?)," Ram Ramierez's 1941 tune long associated with Billie Holiday. Her dramatic delivery on this torch song is underscored by the sensitive brushwork of drummer Jimmy Cobb, who had come into Vaughan's trio following stints with Miles Davis (1958-1963), Wes Montgomery (1963-1964), and Wynton Kelly (1965-1968).
Following band introductions, they leap into a bristling, up-tempo swing rendition of "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever," a sprightly Lerner and Lane tune from a 1965 Broadway musical that was subsequently recorded by such popular singers as Robert Goulet, Barbara Streisand, and Sammy Davis, Jr. Vaughan's version sizzles and she syncopates her phrasing on top of the insistently swinging momentum provided by drummer Cobb, pianist Carl Shroeder, and bassist Frank de la Rosa, who had come into the trio after working through the '60s with Ella Fitzgerald.
Her impressionistic balladic version of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Wave" is about as slow as any song could possibly be sung. The trio collectively takes it time here, demonstrating uncanny sensitivity and patience as Vaughan delivers her lush, luxurious tones with diva-like deliberation. Midway through, the tempo picks up as they revert to the composer's original bouncy bossa nova style, before returning to Sarah's divine interpretation, full of elongated vowels and words wafting over the barline in ethereal fashion. Always fond of swinging show tunes, she then tackles the "I've Got a Lot of Living to Do" (from the 1960 Broadway musical Bye Bye Birdie) in take-no-prisoners up-tempo mode, before settling into a majestic reading of Thelonious Monk's haunting ballad, "'Round Midnight" (a 1944 composition with lyrics added five years later by Bernie Hanighen). Midway through this dramatic number, she introduces surprise guest Dizzy Gillespie (who played alongside Vaughan in Billy Eckstine's band in the mid '40s). Dizzy proceeds to squeeze a depth of feeling out of each note with his stirring muted trumpet solo. Gillespie remains on stage for a rousing up-tempo blues that has the bebop icon unleashing his own comedic brand of scatting following some brilliant high register runs with his muted trumpet. Sarah then joins in on the fun, offering some exhilarating scatting of her own on this torrid jam.
Sarah's first words on Duke Ellington's "I've Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good)" elicit audible sighs from the audience. Gillespie shadows her elastic phrasing and swooping glissandi with some beautifully placed notes of his own on muted trumpet, playing the foil to her velvety smooth vocals. Gillespie's uncharacteristically relaxed solo is a highlight of the tune.
As Gillespie prepares to leave the Great American Music Hall stage, the crowd urges him back for more. The ebullient trumpeter and showman then joins Sarah and her trio on a jaunty rendition of the jazz standard "Sometimes I'm Happy (Sometimes I'm Blue)," a Broadway chestnut that dates back to 1927. Dizzy removes his mute here and lets out with some bracing high-note blasts from his signature upturned trumpet as Mssr. Cobb, de la Rosa, and Shroeder supply the insistently swinging mid-tempo groove. Sarah puts an exclamation point on this ebullient number with some virtuosic scatting.
After Dizzy leaves the stage, Sarah and her trio settle into a lush reading of the poignant ballad "Everything Must Change," a Bernard Ighner tune which was introduced on Quiny Jones' 1974 album Body Heat and was later covered by the likes of Oleta Adams, Nina Simone, Barbra Streisand, and George Benson.
The adoring GAMH crowd sings "Happy Birthday" to Sarah on the occasion of her 51st birthday (actually a week late). And she wraps it up with a lush rendition of Erroll Garner's "Misty," which she recorded in 1958 and which had forever after become identified with the Divine One.
Born on March 27, 1924 in Newark, New Jersey, she sang in the church choir as a child and began piano lessons at age seven. After winning a talent show at the Apollo Theater in 1942 (she wowed the judges with a remarkably mature reading of "Body and Soul"), she was hired as a singer for the Earl Hines big band in April of 1943. When Billy Eckstine left the Hines band to form his own bebop big band (with such stellar players as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Stitt, Leo Parker, and Art Blakey), Vaughan joined him, later making her recording debut with Eckstine's outfit in 1945. After recording with John Kirby in 1946, Vaughan set out on a solo career, recording a string of tunes on the Musicraft label from 1946 to 1948 (including such hits as "Tenderly," "If You Could See Me Now," "Nature Boy," and "It's Magic").
During the 1950s, Vaughan recorded several volumes of Gershwin, Rodgers & Hart and Irving Berlin songbooks for Mercury along with jazz dates for the label's subsidiary, EmArcy (including a memorable 1954 recording with Clifford Brown entitled Sarah Vaughan). She later recorded for Roulette (1960-64), Mercury (1963-67), and Mainstream (1971-74) before hooking up Norman Granz's Pablo label (1977-82). She received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and in 1988 was inducted into American Jazz Hall of Fame. Vaughan was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1989 and passed away on April 4, 1990 at her home in Los Angeles. (Milkowski)