|About this Recording
SARAH VAUGHAN Vol.3
‘Come Rain Or Come Shine’ Original Recordings 1949-1953
Throughout jazz history, there have been many talented singers, ranging from Louis Armstrong (who defined jazz singing), Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday to Anita O’Day, Joe Williams, Mel Torme, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Kurt Elling. To many, Ella Fitzgerald was the perfect jazz singer, always being in-tune, swinging and interpreting lyrics with joy. One of the few other vocalists who deserve to be in the same sentence with Ella is Sarah Vaughan, whose voice was so tremendous that it deserves its own category.
When listening to a Sarah Vaughan record, it is difficult not to want to exclaim ‘What a voice!’ Her range was very wide, her tone was consistently beautiful and she had the ability to do anything she wanted with her instrument. In addition, she was one of the first singers to really understand bebop, resulting in modern phrasing and an adventurous choice of notes, even when she was heard in a commercial pop setting.
Sassy (Sarah Vaughan’s lifelong nickname) was born 27 March 1924 in Newark, New Jersey. She received training as a pianist and occasionally in later years would play piano for a song or two in public. In addition, she sang in church and her brilliance was obvious from an early age. In 1943 the teenage Vaughan won an amateur contest at the Apollo Theater. Singer Billy Eckstine heard her and recommended Sassy to bandleader-pianist Earl Hines, who hired her both as a singer and as a second pianist. The Earl Hines Orchestra at the time also included Charlie Parker (on tenor) and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie but tragically the pioneering bebop orchestra did not record due to the Musicians Union strike; not even a radio broadcast exists.
In 1944, Billy Eckstine formed his own big band, soon hiring Sassy along with Gillespie and Parker. While Vaughan only recorded one song with the Eckstine Orchestra, she learned a great deal during this period as can be heard on her first record session as a leader, four titles from 31 December 1944 that are quite boppish.
Sarah Vaughan left Eckstine in 1945 and, after a few months being featured with the John Kirby Sextet, by early 1946 she was on her own. Her solo career was successful from the start and Vaughan’s popularity never dropped. During the next forty years, she was quite consistent and never had an off period.
Sassy’s best recordings of the 1946-48 period are on the previously released Naxos compilation Trouble Is A Man (8.120763). Come Rain Or Come Shine covers 1949-53, the era when, having graduated from Musicraft, Vaughan was recording regularly for Columbia, a major label whose records were well distributed. Branching out beyond the jazz world, Sarah Vaughan was often accompanied by string orchestras during this period as her records were sold to a pop market. However her singing always retained its jazz sensibilities and much of its spontaneity.
I Cried For You serves as a perfect introduction to the 25-year old’s singing. While paying respect to the melody and the words during the two choruses, she also shows off much of her range, altering notes here and there, and showing that there was no limit to what she could do with her voice. The studio big band, led by arranger Hugo Winterhalter, swings and also hints at bebop.
Black Coffee, a lowdown blues with lyrics full of yearning and helplessness, became a hit with Sassy’s version reaching No.13 on the popularity charts. Cole Porter’s obscure Bianca is from the same session and has the Joe Lippman Orchestra (which includes a vocal group and a string section) boasting some strong trumpeters and a swinging rhythm section.
During 21-22 December 1949, Sarah Vaughan was featured on two very different sessions. The earlier set begins with a classic ballad rendition of You’re Mine, You. Sassy sounds quite beautiful, sliding between unexpected notes. The accompaniment by the Joe Lippman Orchestra on this selection was arranged by the versatile bop writer Tadd Dameron. The band is full of swing all-stars although they stick to ensembles. Hoagy Carmichael’s The Nearness Of You starts out with the rarely-heard verse and is taken very slow, with only pianist Jimmy Jones backing Sarah before the full band comes in during the chorus. At no moment does Vaughan waver or hesitate. Few other singers could swing so confidently at this laidback a tempo. Summertime is also taken at a more relaxed pace than usual, with bassist Ed Safranski adding tension and suspense to the accompaniment.
The following day, Sassy had her first recorded musical reunion with Billy Eckstine, five years after she had sang with his orchestra. Their voices blend together beautifully, showing that Eckstine was one of the few male singers who could hold his own with Vaughan. On Dedicated To You, Mr B even echoes one of her phrases successfully while You’re All I Need is a love song sung between two close lifelong friends.
During 18-19 May 1950, Sarah Vaughan recorded her one out-and-out jazz project for Columbia, resulting in eight titles of which six are included here. Sassy is joined by an all-star octet that includes trumpeter Miles Davis and three other cool-toned soloists: clarinettist Tony Scott, trombonist Bennie Green and tenor-saxophonist Budd Johnson. All of the performances are classics and have their memorable moments. Can’t Get Out Of This Mood, a song that deserves to be heard more often, has short solos by three of the four horn players, all but the trumpeter. In contrast, Miles Davis is prominent throughout It Might As Well Be Spring and his melancholy horn fits perfectly with Sassy, as does Scott’s clarinet at the song’s harmonized conclusion.
Mean To Me was formerly closely associated with Billie Holiday, but it is obvious from the beginning of this performance that Vaughan’s interpretation owes nothing to any previous version. Her final chorus is worthy of any major saxophonist. Come Rain Or Come Shine is taken slow and is full of subtle invention. Nice Work If You Can Get It swings happily and has a nice spot for Miles Davis. Vaughan recorded East Of The Sun at her first session as a leader and it remained in her repertoire for over a decade. Listen to those low notes she hits and holds with apparently no effort.
My Reverie, a classical melody by Debussy that became a hit in the late 1930s for Larry Clinton’s orchestra with Bea Wain on the vocal, was revived for a Sarah Vaughan date in 1951. Sassy does things to the melody that one imagines neither Debussy nor Bea Wain could originally imagine.
It has been often said that with her voice, Sarah Vaughan could have been an opera singer. She came closest to that idiom during this era when she sang religious-based material such as her emotional versions of City Called Heaven and Ave Maria.
With its wide intervals and advanced harmonies, Spring Will Be A Little Late his Year can be a little difficult to sing, but not for Sassy, who glides effortlessly throughout the song. A Blues Serenade, made famous by Bing Crosby twenty years earlier, uses most of Sarah’s range. She hits the high notes with as much confidence as the low ones.
This rewarding collection concludes with Perdido, which by 1950 was already a jazz standard. While more closely associated with Ella Fitzgerald who scatted throughout it, Sassy takes “Perdido” slightly slower and emphasizes the words but her performance is no less swinging and miraculous in its own way.
Sarah Vaughan would have many other miraculous musical moments in a career that lasted until shortly before her 3 April 1990 death. The music on Come Rain Or Come Shine shows just how exciting a singer she already was during the 1949-53 period.
Scott Yanow – author of nine jazz books including Jazz On Film, Swing, Bebop, Trumpet Kings and Jazz On Record 1917-76
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