Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

January/February 2012: Robert Glasper

Sarah Vaughan (1924-90)

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Sarah Vaughan was a great jazz vocalist, as talented as Ella Fitzgerald or Billie Holiday. What made Vaughan stand out was the broad range of colour in her voice. With a four-octave range, she could reach inside a song and make it her very own.

Vaughan was a singer’s singer. She understood jazz because she was a product of the bebop era, learning her craft in the bebop breeding group formed by Earl Hines with singer Billy Eckstine. There she performed alongside Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. Her style was cheekier than most and earned her the nickname Sassy.

Vaughan had frequent crossover successes with pop tunes such as “Misty,” “Broken-Hearted Melody,” and “Tenderly.” Even when she sang pop, Vaughan still sounded like a jazz singer. She was an original.

Vaughan made many records in her career, but her most satisfying one is her self-titled 1954 album, Sarah Vaughan [Verve #3145433052]. Ernie Wilkins wrote the brilliant arrangements and they are played by a sparkling band that included Herbie Mann on flute, Paul Quinchette on tenor sax, Jimmy Jones on piano, Joe Benjamin on bass, and Roy Haynes on drums. By far though, it is the twenty-four-year-old virtuoso Clifford Brown on trumpet who stands out, showing off his dexterity but never upstaging Vaughan. Brown would die in a car accident eighteen months later.

The song selection is perfect. Vaughan’s smoky voice bops fresh life into the much-recorded George Shearing classic “Lullaby of Birdland.” Vernon Duke’s “April in Paris” is given a slow, pensive treatment. “I’m Glad There Is You” is Jimmy Dorsey’s one and only hit as a songwriter, and Vaughan’s performance of this ballad is flawless. Her moving rendition of Kurt Weill’s “September Song” is wonderful, and Clifford Brown plays a beautiful solo.

Sarah Vaughan is a perfect record. Vaughan’s voice is gorgeous throughout, and she uses a wealth of imaginative vocal phrases and riffs to keep it interesting.

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