Sarah Vaughan - vocals; Bob James - piano; Larry Rockewell - bass; Omar Clay - drums
One of the most elegant singers and ballad interpreters in the history of jazz, Sarah Vaughan headlined a full day of events on Sunday, closing out the last day of the 1964 Newport Jazz Festival on a classy note. Ably accompanied by the Bob James Trio, she opens her July 5th set with a blazing, bop-infused rendition of "Sometimes I'm Happy (Sometimes I'm Blue)," a tune she first recorded in 1955 for her breakthrough album on EmArcy, In the Land of Hi-Fi. Sarah shows astounding command here as she nimbly drops in references to Bud Powell's "Parisian Thoroughfare" and "Happy Birthday" in the midst of her stream of conscious- scat singing excursion. Her rhapsodic ballad rendition of "Fly Me to the Moon" (which she recorded on 1962's You're Mine, You with big band and string arrangements by Quincy Jones) is an entirely different take on that Bart Howard tune than the hip, finger-snapping version recorded earlier in 1964 by Frank Sinatra with the Count Basie Orchestra (It Might as Well be Swing, also arranged and conducted by Quincy Jones). Sarah takes her version at a snail's pace, embracing each word of the poetic lyrics with uncanny nuance as she sings: Fill my heart with song and let me sing forever more/You are all I long for, all I worship and adore.
Vaughan continues in luxurious minor key mode with the entrancing Richard Rodgers ballad "The Sweetest Sounds," which segues to an easy walking 4/4 groove midway through. Her intimate rendition of Ram Ramirez's "Lover Man" is delivered with passionate, fluid phrasing that cascades effortlessly over the barline while she handles the Johnny Burke/Jimmy Van Heusen standard "Like Someone in Love" with a jaunty sense of swing. A centerpiece of Vaughan's set is her dramatic reading of Erroll Garner's classic "Misty," which the crowd immediately reacts to after the first three words sung: Look at me. Sarah takes great liberties with her phrasing here, floating over the barline and wafting above the trio with a lighter than air feel. Her rendition of Toots Thielemans appealing waltz-time melody, "Bluesette," is done with a sense of playful invention by the singer while her reading of "Maria" (from West Side Story) is delivered with operatic grandeur (replete with a rolling of the 'r's on the name).
Her encore number is a lush version of "Tenderly"(a tune she had recorded back in 1946), and with some loosely improvised words to the audience she sends this Newport crowd home with warm feelings for the jazz diva.
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. Born in Newark, New Jersey on March 27, 1924, Vaughan sang in church as a child and had extensive piano lessons from 1931-39, developing into a capable keyboardist. After winning a talent show at the Apollo Theater, she was hired as a singer for the Earl Hines big band as a singer and second vocalist. Unfortunately, the musicians' recording in 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, making her recording debut in 1945. After recording with John Kirby in 1946, she set out on a solo career, recording a string of tunes on the Musicraft label from 1946 to 1948 (including "Tenderly," "If You Could See Me Now," 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). Vaughan (nicknamed "Sassy" or "The Divine One") was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1989 and passed away on April 3, 1990 at her home in Los Angeles.
Pianist James, Vaughan's musical director in 1964, would go on to huge commercial successes in the '70s, composing themes for television sitcoms (most notably the popular Taxi) as well as recording on his own Tappan Zee label. In the '80s and '90s, he had a string of best-selling albums as a leader and in collaboration with guitarist Earl Klugh, alto saxophonist David Sanborn and tenor saxophonist Kirk Whalum. James continues to perform and record with his trio and aslso with the smooth jazz supergroup Four Play, featuring guitarist Larry Carlton, bassist Nathan East and drummer Harvey Mason. (Milkowski)