Sarah Vaughan - vocals
Carl Schroeder - piano
Frank DeLaRosa - bass
Jimmy Cobb - drums
The incomparable Sarah Vaughan had a special relationship with Great American Music Hall audiences. They openly adored her and she cherished them. Known as 'a singer's singer,' she was always at her most relaxed and unguarded in her GAMH concerts, routinely interacting with her adoring fans between songs with casual banter that could be downright silly, revealing her girlish giggle. At this 1974 GAMH performance, The Divine One openly engaged in humorous exchanges with the audience between songs. At one point she joking tells them, "Cool it! Cool it! I don't come on yer job and holler!" as they shout out requests. Towards the end of her concert, she says to them, "Let's all have a drink. Somebody bring me a cognac." That kind of good humored spirit permeates this stellar set. But when it's time to shift gears and delve into a heartfelt ballad, Vaughan casts her dramatic spell like no other singer.
Accompanied by her longtime pianist and musical director Carl Schroeder (a member of Ray Haynes' Hip Ensemble during the '70s), bassist Frank DeLaRosa (who had previously worked with Ella Fitzgerald and with the Don Ellis Orchestra) and veteran drummer Jimmy Cobb (who had played with Dinah Washington and later appeared on Miles Davis' 1959 landmark recording, Kind of Blue), Vaughan goes from ballads to blues to bebop and bossas with remarkable finesse and uncanny command of her magnificent instrument. Having been named "Favorite Female Singer" earlier that year in a Playboy magazine poll, she was riding a wave of popularity, at age 50, at the time of this 1974 GAMH concert.
They kick it off in energized fashion with a loosely swinging take on George and Ira Gershwin's "A Foggy Day" (introduced in the 1937 Fred Astaire film, Damsel in Distress). Bassist DeLaRosa and drummer Cobb pace the proceedings with an uptempo pulse while "Sassy" alludes to some of the scatacular bursts that will come to fruition later in the set. Shifting gears, they settle into a slow, sublime reading of Duke Ellington's "I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good)." Her first few syllables elicit applause and audible sighs from the crowd, and she proceeds to color her phrasing with virtuosic swoons and deep blue expressions in the low register, along with a few coy asides. By the time she concludes this classic bit of Ellingtonia with a dramatic flourish at the tag, she has made it her own.
They next put a breezy bossa nova feel on the popular '30s tune "The Lamp Is Low" before turning in a dreamy, rhapsodic reading of the Johnny Mercer tune from 1941. "Watch What Happens" is the first of two Michel Legrand numbers that Vaughan interprets during the set. Her loosely swinging, midtempo rendition showcases an easy give and take between vocalist and pianist. Followed a dramatic bowed bass intro by DeLaRosa, Sassy settles into an introspective reading of Karen Carpenter's 1971 pop hit "Rainy Days and Mondays" this highlights her remarkable control of her instrument. "I Cried for You" is an old Tin Pan Alley tune from the early '20s, which Vaughan company reinvent as an uptempo burner that also showcases some blazing piano runs by Schroeder.
Her dramatic interpretation of Legrand's "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your LIfe?" (with lyrics by the team of Alan and Marilyn Bergman) is precisely why Vaughan was known as The Divine One. She breathes new life into this sublime, slightly melancholy ballad with her magnificent rendering. There follows a musical interlude that allows Sarah to unleash her unparalleled scatting chops over an uptempo blues. DeLaRosa delivers a marvelous bowed bass solo here and Cobb follows with a solo that starts on brushes and culminates in some dynamic bashing on the kit with sticks. She handles an audience request by turning in a poignant reading of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," done as a duet with pianist Schroeder, then comes out swinging hard on her energized set closer, "There Will Never Be Another You," a Harry Warren-Mack Gordon song written for the 1942 Iceland, a vehicle for Norwegian Olympic skating champion turned Hollywood star, Sonja Henie. For an encore, after a sip of some cognac, Vaughan complies with two requests by cleverly tying together "My Funny Valentine" and "Poor Butterfly" (based on Giacomo Puccini's Madame Butterfly) into a stirring medley.
The Newark, New Jersey native was born on March 27, 1924 into a household filled with music. Her mother was a member of the choir at Mt. Zion Baptist Church; her father was a carpenter who played piano and guitar in his spare time. Sarah sang in the Mt. Zion Church choir as a young girl and began piano lessons at age seven. At age 18, she entered an amateur talent contest at Harlem's Apollo Theater, which she won. Her prize was $10, plus a week's engagement at the Apollo, where singer Billy Eckstine saw her perform and subsequently recommended her to bandleader Earl "Fatha" Hines, who quickly hired her as a featured vocalist with his group (which included such future stars as Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Gene Ammons, Benny Carter and Shadow Wilson). In 1944, after a year with Hines, Sarah joined Eckstine's band (which included Gillespie and Parker along with such modernist bebop pioneers as Tadd Dameron, Miles Davis, Sonny Stitt, Leo Parker, Art Blakey, Dexter Gordon and Fats Navarro). 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 kept up a rigorous touring schedule until being diagnosed with an advanced stage of lung cancer in 1989. She passed away on April 4, 1990 at at the age of 66 at her home in Los Angeles. (Bill Milkowski)