Sarah Vaughan -- vocals; Bob James -- piano; Herb Mickman -- bass; Omar Clay -- drums
One of the finest interpreters of the Great American Songbook, Sarah Vaughan possessed a magnificent voice that ranked her with the top female jazz singers of the past century. With a perfectly controlled vibrato and wide expressive abilities, along with an incredible command of her unique instrument, "Sassy," as she was known, cast her spell on audiences for five decades. She was 43 years old at the time of this 1967 Newport Jazz Festival performance.
Sarah opens her Monday evening show at Newport with a brisk run through the clever Alan Jay Lerner-Burton Lane ditty "Come Back to Me" (from the 1965 Broadway musical, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever). This catchy tune was subsequently recorded by everyone from Frank Sinatra and Johnny Mathis to Peggy Lee and Petula Clark. "Alfie," the Burt Bacharach-Hal David tune and theme of the popular resuscitated1965 movie, is given a lush treatment here by musical director Bob James while drummer Omar Clay takes a sensitive, colorist's approach on brushes. Sassy's version is positively operatic compared to pop renditions recorded the previous year by Cher and Dee Dee Warwick. Even Dionne Warwick's definitive 1967 version is staid in comparison to Vaughan's highly impressionistic take on this Bacharach-David classic.
Vaughan and her kindred crew take a hard-swinging approach on "Day In Day Out," the 1939 Rube Bloom-Johnny Mercer tune rediscovered during the '50s by the likes of Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole and Sinatra. Switching gears, they luxuriate in a sublime rendition of Erroll Garner's "Misty," which Sarah recorded in 1958 and which had forever after become identified with the Divine One. Cole Porter's "What Is Thing Called Love?" is taken at a blazing tempo, with Mickman's insistent walking bass lines and Clay's rapid-fire ride cymbal pulse setting the pace. Then it's back to a serene vibe with a dramatic reading of the melancholy "Lover Man (Oh, Where Can You Be?)," the 1941 torch song composed by Ram Ramierez for Billie Holiday. The next sail through a bracing, bop-infused rendition of "Sometimes I'm Happy (Sometimes I'm Blue)," a tune that Vaughan first recorded in 1955 for her breakthrough album on EmArcy, In the Land of Hi-Fi. Sassy showcases her freewheeling scatting chops on this burner. And she concludes her Newport set with an elegant, relaxed rendition of "Tenderly," a wistful number she had recorded back in 1946 and which remained one of her most requested through her career.
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)