Jazz Masters 42: Sarah Vaughan: The Jazz Sides

Sarah Vaughan

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Jazz Masters 42: Sarah Vaughan: The Jazz Sides Review

by Shawn M. Haney

Stunning. Romantic. Joyous. Uplifting. Affectionate. This is certainly quite a collection of standards performed by one of the elite jazz singers, the legendary Sarah Vaughan. Renowned for her three-octave range, engaging voice, and alluring presence, Vaughan lights up the stage in many of the tunes, recorded live in clubs grateful for her appearance throughout her singing career. Beginning with the showstopper "I Cried for You," Vaughan brings her backup band up another notch, with a breathtaking performance in the highest measure of esteem. The follow-up, "I Feel Pretty," is quite a phenomenal sleeper hit. "I feel pretty, so pretty/I feel pretty and witty and bright/I'm so pretty/I hardly can't believe it's real," sings Vaughan with a enigmatic sense of charisma, perhaps her most shimmering quality on stage. The third track, slower in measure with a riveting piano accompaniment, shows off her tenderness, as she sings, "Words can't describe the way that I feel for you." Other songs featured in this timeless compilation are her eloquent renditions of "Pennies From Heaven," "Body and Soul," and "Over the Rainbow." In the liner notes, the critic Robert Baird points out that this album is filled with standards, adding, "(B)ut in front of a quartet or quintet, Vaughan and her gift turned these favorites into jazz of the highest order."

This disc is composed of Vaughan's work with smaller groups, recorded between the years 1954 and 1963. Songs like "Doodlin'," though, which she sang with the Count Basie Orchestra, are filled with nuances of her favorite influences, including the horn players Dizzy Gillespie and Chuck Bird. In her rendition of "Prelude to a Kiss," Vaughan brings forth a wonderful flair of passion, pondering the lyrics, "It's just a simple melody, with nothing fancy, nothing much/You could turn it into a symphony, a Schubert tune, with a Gershwin touch" (well-written lyrics for the Duke Ellington tune by the preeminent lyricists Irving Gordon and Irving Mills). With resonance and flavor shining through her brilliant vocal style, over time she developed into one of the great jazz "divas." With strong belief in his words, Leonard Feather said, "(S)he was our Jessye Norman, our Leontyne Price," concluding, "The operatic beauty of her sound was like nothing that had preceded it, and it is unlikely that anything comparable will ever succeed it." The tearjerking "Misty" is perhaps the most undauntable performance of this collection. It is here that she reaches the pivotal summit of her art. This tune written and composed by Erroll Garner became a staple of Vaughan's sets early on in her career. With attentive listening, one can feel both sides of Vaughan's complex personality, that of a sassy diva and a passionate virtuoso. This record marks the definitive character of the legendary Sarah Vaughan in her most sensational form.

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