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Sarah Vaughan

Four Classic Albums

AVID AMSC1352 [81:31 + 71:39]

 

CD1

With Clifford Brown
1. Lullaby Of Birdland
2. April In Paris
3. He’s My Guy
4. Jim
5. You’re Not The Kind
6. Embraceable You
7. I’m Glad There Is You
8. September Song
9. It’s Crazy
Swingin’ Easy
10. Shulie A Bop
11. Lover Man
12. I Cried For You
13. Polka Dots And Moonbeams
14. All Of Me
15. Words Can’t Describe
16. Prelude To A Kiss
17. You Hit The Spot
18. Pennies From Heaven
19. If I Knew Then (What I Know Now)
20. Body And Soul
21. They Can’t Take That Away From Me

CD2
At Mister Kelly’s
1. September In The Rain
2. Willow Weep For Me
3. Just One Of Those Things
4. Be Anything (But Darling Be Mine)
5. Thou Swell
6. Stairway To The Stars
7. Honeysuckle Rose
8. Just A Gigolo
9. How High The Moon
No Count Sarah
10. Smoke Gets In Your Eyes
11. Doodlin’
12. Darn That Dream
13. Just One Of Those Things
14. Moonlight In Vermont
15. No Count Blues
16. Cheek To Cheek
17. Stardust
18. Missing You

Sarah Vaughan (vocal) with

CD1: 1-9

Clifford Brown (trumpet), Paul Quinichette (tenor sax), Herbie Mann (flute), Jimmy Jones (piano), Joe Benjamin (bass) Roy Haynes (drums); Ernie Wilkins (conductor); rec. December 16 & 18, 1954, New York.

CD1: 10-21

John Malachi (piano, tracks 10-11, 13, 16-17, 19-21), Jimmy Jones (piano, trks 12, 14-15, 18), Joe Benjamin (bass, trks 10-11, 13, 16-17, 19-21), Richard Davis (bass, trks, 12, 14-15, 18), Roy Haynes (drums, all tracks);

rec. February 14, 1957, New York.

CD2: 1-9

Jimmy Jones (piano), Richard Davis (bass), Roy Haynes (drums); rec. August 6, 1957, Mister Kelly’s, Chicago.

CD2: 10-18

(Collective personnel); Eugene Young, Joe Newman, Thad Jones, Wendell Curry (trumpets), Al Grey, Benny Green, Henry Coker (trombones), Billy Mitchell, Charley Fowlkes, Frank Foster, Frank Wess, Marshall Royal (saxophones), Ronell Bright (piano), Freddy Green (guitar), Richard Davis (bass), Sonny Payne (drums); rec. January 5, and December 15 & 23, 1958, New York.

Sarah Vaughan is, without doubt, one of the great jazz vocalists. This set from Avid provides the opportunity to add four of her most significant albums to one’s collection at a very attractive price; four albums which present the singer in a number of different contexts. On one ( Sarah Vaughan with Clifford Brown) she is heard in a studio recording with a sextet which includes a couple of fine horn players (in Clifford Brown and Paul Quinichette) and the rewarding pianist Jimmy Jones (not least on ‘April in Paris’); another (At Mister Kelly’s) is a live performance with her regular trio of the time; on No Count Sarah she is accompanied by the Basie band – minus Mr. Basie himself, whilethe studio recordings on Swingin’ Easy present The Divine One’ (that and her other nickname, ‘Sassy’, reflect the majesty of her voice and the quality of ‘cheek’ or mischief that she often brought to her performances) with two different – but both very distinguished – rhythm sections (drummer Roy Haynes is the only common member of the two trios).

For lovers of modern jazz the combination of Sarah Vaughan and Clifford Brown has all the allure that that of Bessie Smith (or Ma Rainey) with Louis Armstrong has for jazz lovers whose heart is in the music of the 1920s (though, of course, the musical idioms are very different!). Even on ‘Jim’, a rather sentimental song taken very slowly, Vaughan and Brown redeem the material, especially in Brown’s well-constructed solo. The next track, ‘You’re Not the Kind’ opens with a brief intro by the trumpeter which launches Vaughan into some very agile singing, before Quinichette takes an expressive solo; Herbie Mann’s rather empty flute solo lets the temperature drop somewhat, before Brown returns and raises it again!. ‘I’m Glad There is You’ is just about perfect, with Vaughan’s contralto at its most stately in the initial reading of the song, and with Quinichette improvising some delightful obbligati behind the singer in later choruses. The presence of such accomplished musicians as Brown and Quinichette and a pianist as responsive, and familiar to her, as Jimmy Jones, seems to liberate Vaughan, allowing her to make unexpected choices safe in the knowledge that they will respond well. Vaughan’s interpretation of ‘September Song’ is achingly beautiful – I wonder if there have been better readings of this song (by Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson) by other artists. I can’t think of any offhand. This album has claims to be one of the very best of Sarah Vaughan’s recording sessions – which means that it is very good indeed. It is worth saying that the foundation for this successful recording is very much laid by Jimmy Jones, Joe Benjamin and Roy Haynes (then Vaughan’s regular trio). The mutual confidence amongst Vaughan and these three was an important ‘premise’ for the making of this outstanding album.

Swingin’ Easy certainly does what it says on the tin, there being an all-pervading sense of swinging ease. Swingin’ Easy isn’t as regularly lauded as the session with Brown and Quinichette, but is eminently worth hearing (and owning, so that it can readily be heard again). There are some excellent examples of Vaughan’s scat singing (as, for example, on the opener ‘Shuli A Bop’ and, less predictably on ‘All of Me’; and also some fine examples of Vaughan’s way with a ballad (e.g. ‘Polka Dots and Moonbeams’ and ‘Body and Soul’. In fact Vaughan is on consistently good form throughout the entire album. She is clearly very much at ease with both supporting trios. One of the pianists is John Malachi. Malachi is far from being a ‘big name’, in part because he spent much of his career as accompanist for a number of singers (including, at various times, Joe Williams, Pearl Bailey and Dinah Washington, as well as Vaughan). How well he understands that role is evident from listening to his work on ‘Prelude to a Kiss’ or, indeed, any of the other tracks of this album on which he plays. Malachi (1919-1987) is one of jazz’s many unsung heroes, never a musician innovative enough to attract major attention, but a dependable accompanist and facilitator for better-known musicians, from his early days as pianist and arranger with Billy Eckstine’s Bebop band in the mid 1940s, to his final days in Washington D.C., where he spent the last 15 years of his life playing and teaching.

At Mister Kelly’s is another top-class album. Vaughan is, once more, working with what was then her regular trio – and what a very impressive trio it is; perhaps for that reason she sounds particularly relaxed throughout this live recording. Her sense of time and her placing of rhythmic accents and verbal emphases are subtle and not always quite what one is expecting, something she would not, perhaps, have risked if working with musicians with whom she was less familiar. The reading of ‘Thou Swell’ is ludic jazz at its best; by way of contrast ‘Willow Weep For Me’ is, as one would expect, predominantly sorrowful, though even here Vaughan can’t resist one or two ‘sassy touches. Vaughan’s virtuosity could sometimes sound like an end in itself, but not here; this was an evening when all her skills were at the service of the music. Jimmy Jones is better remembered than John Malachi, though he too is best-known as an accompanist. He seems to have been on especially good form on this evening in August 1957. He is always judiciously supportive of Vaughan, but also consistently inventive and exploratory in his harmonies. The drum work of Roy Haynes is also of the highest quality; it is mostly rather quiet, but one is always aware of how closely Haynes is listening and how much his playing is a function of his listening. Bassist Richard Davis, it almost goes without saying, lets no one down – has he ever done so on any of the many hundreds of albums he must have recorded? It is worth listening particularly to what Davis does on ‘Just One of Those Things’ for example. At Mister Kelly’s is so good that it would serve you well if it were the only Vaughan disc on your shelves.

Though I enjoy No Count Sarah, I can’t praise it quite so highly. If it is less successful than one might have hoped, it isn’t that one misses Basie himself so much. Ronell Bright (another largely forgotten pianist) plays more and different notes than Basie would have played, but the notes are well-chosen and Bright’s boppish roots probably suit Vaughan (her roots as a bop pianist and vocalist were still shaping much of what she did) more than Basie’s spare comping would have done. The members of the Basie band do their job, but are given few opportunities to solo or to interact individually with Vaughan. There are, though, still tracks to enjoy, such as ‘No Count Blues’ and ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’. Overall, however, one is left feeling that both singer and band have done their work professionally, without quite striking any sparks off one another. The Basie band, by accident or design (most of the arrangements were by Thad Jones), is unusually characterless. Having listened to this album before, and now again, I am left with the rather heretical thought that a band of top-quality session musicians could probably have done pretty well everything that the (Countless) Basie band does here. Where Vaughan herself is concerned the album has the virtue of displaying the sheer (fully controlled) range of her voice at this time, from a rich bottom register to a soaring top.

If I am a little downbeat about No Count Sarah, that is not because it is a bad album (as a few of her later recordings were when she recorded in pop rather than jazz contexts) but because it comes as something of a disappointment when listened to in the context provided by the other three albums which make up this very desirable 2 CD set from Avid. And, in fairness, I should say that some have rated No Count Sarah more highly than I do. These four albums were recorded (for Mercury/Emarcy) across a span of about four years. To find another sequence of such consistently high-quality albums (despite my slight reservations about No Count Sarah) by Ms. Vaughan one probably needs to turn to the recordings she made for Norman Granz’s label Pablo in the 1970s (such as How Long Has This Been GoingOn?, The Duke Ellington Song Book One, Copacabana and Crazy and Mixed Up). Inevitably, compared to the four albums reissued here, Vaughan’s voice was showing more signs of wear and tear, though it was still a fine instrument, and her musicianship and her way with a lyric were both still very much in evidence.

Glyn Pursglove


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