Sarah Vaughan - vocals
Carl Schroeder - piano
Percy Heath - bass
Jimmy Cobb - drums
She possessed a magnificent voice and ranked with Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday in the very top echelon of female jazz singers of the past century. With a perfectly controlled vibrato and wide expressive abilities, along with an incredible command of her sterling instrument, Sarah Vaughan cast her spell on audiences for five decades. A veteran of the bebop era who had come up in the Billy Eckstine big band of the mid 1940s, Vaughan was by 1975 in the autumn of her years but at the peak of her powers. And while the soaring soprano of her youth had dropped in register to a sultry contralto range, she carried herself with regal bearing to match her nickname, "The Divine One." And audiences openly adored her.
For this July 5th concert at Carnegie Hall, Vaughan performed two lengthy sets, delighting her legion of fans with something old, something new, something borrowed and something decidedly blue. To kick things off, her stellar trio of pianist and musical director Carl Schroeder, bassist Percy Heath and drummer Jimmy Cobb warm up the crowd with an extended version of "On Green Dolphin Street," which features an outstanding bass solo from Heath, co-founder of the Modern jazz Quartet. The Divine One finally takes the stage to strains of George and Ira Gershwin's "The Man I Love". With perfect diction and her penchant for unbridled swing, Sarah launches into this Great American Songbook staple with rhythmic assuredness and an urge to scat on fiery exchanges with pianist Schroeder. Shifting gears, she turns in an intimate, emotionally-charged version of Duke Ellington's "I Got It Bad And That Ain't Good" that elicits shouts from the audience for her virtuosic swoons and bluesy dips into the low register.
Drummer Cobb switches to brushes for an alluring rendition of Michel Legrand's "Watch What Happens" that carries a supple swing beat on the bridge. Sarah follows with a dramatic reading of Thelonious Monk's "Round Midnight" that has her voice soaring to the peaks and swooping back down to a luxurious, throaty baritone. Next up they tackle the Latin flavored take on the popular '30s tune, "The Lamp Is Low," that opens up to a swing section showcasing Schroeder soloing on top of the insistent groove provided by the indelible, swinging hookup of Heath and Cobb. From that ebullient number, Sarah slides into her famous rendering of Erroll Garner's "Misty", done with operatic facility; and then she and her crew swing through Rodger & Hart's "I Could Write a Book" before turning in an ultra-slow, sensuous reading of Jobim's "Wave".
Following a musical interlude, featuring extended solos from Heath and Cobb, Vaughan returns to engage in some spirited scat exchanges with the band. Her stirring version of "Every Must Change" is a dramatic highpoint of the set, and then she quickly switches moods to a swinging upbeat version of Gershwin's "A Foggy Day" that highlights her rhythmically playful nature and elastic relationship to the beat. Sarah briefly leaves the stage for a short intermission, only to return for a second dynamic set.
They open the second half of the show swinging through an up-tempo "I'll Remember April", another perfect vehicle for her flawless, driving scatting technique. Shifting moods, Heath takes out the bow to create a somber backdrop for Sarah's silky voice on Michel Legrand's melancholy and tender "The Summer Knows". Cobb swings briskly with brushes on the Broadway show tune "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever", which Sarah swings and syncopates with effortless abandon. A medley of her older songs includes such hits from the '50s as "It's Magic", "Everything I Have Is Yours", "My Reverie", "Body and Soul", "Street of Dreams", "Moonlight in Vermont" and "I Cover the Waterfront". Listening to her wrap her golden pipes around each and every one of these melodic gems from yesteryear, it soon becomes clear that Vaughan can do anything she wants to at any time with that miraculous voice of hers.
As if that medley alone weren't enough, she comes out swinging on an up-tempo version of the buoyant show tune "A Lot of Livin' to Do" (from Bye Bye Birdie), then shifts into a poignant version of The Carpenters' pop hit from 1971, "Rainy Days and Mondays." She follows with a swinging version of Jimmy Van Heusen's "Like Someone in Love." Her dramatic reading of "Send in the Clowns" (the Stephen Sondheim tune from the Broadway musical A Little Night Music and also the title track of Vaughan's 1974 Mainstream album) is met with instant applause from the opening notes and a hail of applause at the conclusion. Sarah performs the Tin Pan Alley tune "Mean to Me" as a bass-voice duet with Heath, engaging in some loose, playful scatting along the way. She delivers a delicate reading of "Poor Butterfly" (a popular tune based on Giacomo Puccini's opera Madame Butterfly) at the request of the Carnegie Hall light man. She ends her 1975 Newport Jazz Festival set with the straight up swinger "There Will Never Be Another You," then encores with an elegant rendition of "Tenderly," one of her most requested tunes.
Born on March 27, 1924 in Newark, New Jersey, Vaughan 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, 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. (Bill Milkowski)