by Joop Visser
Gifted with a wide range, Sarah Vaughan had the ability to sing tunefully and expressively from the deepest contralto growls to sparkling high notes. She combined this gift with a jazz musician's ear, command of the harmonic structure of songs, powers of invention and above all the great joy she had in her voice and the ability and daring to do with that voice pretty much anything she chose.
These combined gifts and talents made the shy, defensive, bucktoothed slip of a girl into one of the superstars of the 20th century in a career that lasted more than 40 years.
Sarah Lois Vaughan was born in Newark, New Jersey on March 27,1924, the only child of Asbury "Jake" and Ada Vaughan, who had migrated from Virginia to Newark during World War 1. Jake was a carpenter whose hobby was playing guitar and singing Negro folk tunes. Sarah s mother, Ada, worked as a laundress and sang spirituals and hymns in the choir of the First Mount Zion Baptist church, a humble church with a poor congregation.
By the age of seven, Sarah started piano lessons with Josephine King, a church member. At the age of twelve Sarah played organ and sang in the choir of the First Mount Zion Baptist church. News spread fast in the Newark Baptist community that the only child of the Vaughan family was very talented. Maude Crews, who worked as choirmaster and principal organist of the First Mount Zion Baptist church, was one of the first to recognize Sarah's talent and Newark's Little Jimmy Scott, the jazz singer who at this moment is enjoying some long overdue recognition of his talent, heard that "Sarah was a soulful singer", he remembered the gossip that Sarah could become another Marion Anderson, many years after Sarah became a famous singer.
The experience of the church left an influence on Sarah s work, she had an affinity with gospel music, and when she desired to inflect her work with its colorations she was very good at it. On the other hand Sarah never demonstrated great affinity with that other idiom of black vocal expression, the blues. As far back as 1947, in a Leonard Feather Blindfold Test for Metronome magazine, she listened to Bessie Smiths " Young Woman Blues" and failed to recognize the singer and stated, "I have absolutely no feeling for this".
During her early teens Sarah attended her neighborhood high school, East Side High School but soon transferred to Arts High, the high school for Newark's gifted students. It was during this period that Sarah began to wander from the religious direction by playing Ella Fitzgerald's "Rock It For Me" and sentimental ballads like "Danny Boy" and "The Bluebird Of Happiness", which she had learned from the radio, on the family's upright piano.
On the Victrola in the Vaughan's apartment Sarah listened to the few records Ada could afford to buy her daughter; Count Basie, Erskine Hawkins, The Savoy Sultans and Coleman Hawkins' "Body And Soul", Sarah's love for the popular music of the day soon began to shape her social life, despite her parent's unease about their daughter's changing social pattern.
Sarah and her school friends went to the local YMCA where they learned the Lindy Hop. They also liked to go to the nearby skating rink, where the bands of Lionel Hampton and Buddy Johnson played. Sarah s favorite places were the Laurel Garden which featured big bands and Newark's famous Adams Theatre, where Sarah heard the bands of Erskine Hawkins and Earl Hines with Billy Eckstine, Sarah would occasionally sit in and sing with local groups playing in the neighborhood.
In a downtown record shop in Newark, and in places like the Nest Club and the pool room on Montgomery Street, Sarah started to hang out and talk about music with like-minded kids and young Newark musicians like singer Babs Gonzales, trumpeters Dave Burns and Hal Mitchell, and pianists, Teddy and June Cole, the brothers of drummer Cozy Cole.
Sarah dropped out of high school in her junior year, to Sarah, it did not make any sense to go to school when she could learn the latest songs by day in the record store and play piano in the evening, which she began doing in her mid-teens at places like the USO near Newark Airport, soon followed by appearances at the Piccadilly Club where a fifteen year old Sarah made an impression on the night people, singing and playing. When the club owner wanted to hire Sarah, he approached Ada Vaughan, who was both proud of the owner’s compliment to Sarah and shocked to learn about the life-style of her daughter. Sarah’s parents reluctantly overlooked her transgressions, as she kept up her church work devotedly. Sarah felt that both the church and the club world revolved around the music and she felt no conflict at all traveling between the two places.
During the summer of 1942, Sarah and her Church choir friend Doris Robinson set out from Newark's Pennsylvania Railroad Station to Manhattan, from where they took the subway Harlem. Doris Robinson had entered the famous amateur contest at the Apollo Theatre, that night, where she sang "The Bluebird Of Happiness", accompanied by Sarah on piano. Doris won second prize - ten dollars, which split fifty fifty with Sarah.
After encouragement from trumpeter Jabbo Smith, it did not take long for Sarah to decide that she wanted to return to the Apollo stage and enter the amateur contest by herself. One night in October 1942 Sarah, accompanied by a group of friends, who paid her fare, set off for the Apollo Theatre. She arrived at the theatre so late that night, that Ralph Cooper, Apollo's master of ceremonies did not let her sing. Cooper recalls how flustered she was - she could barely tell him what she wanted to do. Seeing how crestfallen she felt when it appeared that he wasn't going to let on stage, Cooper changed his mind and gave Sarah a chance.
Cooper recalls in his book "Amateur night at the Apollo", that he felt protective towards Sarah. She looked small and vulnerable and he knew how critical and unforgiving the Apollo audience was when it didn't like a performance. He thought "the roar of the crowd would knock her off her feet".
Sarah sang "Body And Soul" and the audience succumbed to her bravura interpretation of the song that Coleman Hawkins and Billie Holiday had already made famous. Cooper commented, "I was so impressed by her in-depth soul and her ability to vocalize changes around the melody...Sarah Vaughan was a superstar in the making...she jumped octaves like she owned them". Sarah won first prize - ten dollars, plus the promise of a weeks engagement at the Apollo sometime in the near future. Her career was born.
Sarah decided to make singing her business and anxiously awaited the phone call that would summon her for her week's stint at the Apollo.
In the early spring of 1943, the call came to open for Ella Fitzgerald, who headlined the show that week. Billy Eckstine, then featured vocalist with Earl Hines' band, lived on 125th Street at the time and decided to catch Ella and the rest of the show. Eckstine could not believe his ears when hearing Sarah, "How lovely her voice was, it was just something different. Something you hadn't heard before", he later explained. Eckstine quickly told Earl Hines that here was the ideal female singer for the band. The information may not have clicked with Hines right away. He later claimed in Stanley Dance's book "The World of Earl Hines", that he and a friend, trumpeter June Clark, and a valet, discovered Sarah on their own. Hines stated that he and June Clark had gone to the Apollo to hear Ella, after a day of hard drinking. Hearing Sarah sing, Hines reminisced, "Is that girl singing, or am I drunk or what?". Ralph Cooper wrote in his book, "Earl Hines was so amazed when he heard her. It took three weeks to get his mouth closed". Hines immediately decided to replace his girl singer, Madeline Green, with Sarah.
Billy Eckstine later recalled the day Sarah tried out for Hines, "Sass took the mike they had in this little recording studio, and started singing - you could see the guys stop their packing to stare at each other. By the time she had finished, all of them were around the piano - looking at the homely girl who was singing like this, just wailing. When Earl saw the reaction of the band she was in".
Hines hired Sarah not only as a singer but also as second pianist. He was delighted to find out that Sarah was a fine piano player, he could now list Sarah as a musician, a member of the musicians union, and avoid any pressure from the American Guild of Variety Artists, to which performers who didn't play instruments belonged.
Sarah was instructed to play piano "second piano" for Hines, sitting at a second piano, embellishing Earl's work and enhancing his image. Sarah sang duets with Billy Eckstine and had a vocal solo spot towards the end of each show. Hines played piano for Sarah and Billy.
Sarah presented a totally different image than the sophisticated Madeline Green, her predecessor. The members of the Hines band initially thought that Earl had lost his mind by hiring this, skinny, bucktoothed and shy girl. After hearing Sarah, they became as delighted as Earl and Billy. Sarah was behaving like them, nothing shocked or alarmed her. She had heard all the cursing and seen all the hustling in Newark. She did not like to be treated with kid gloves, when the musicians discovered that Sarah could swear as loudly as any of them, they started to call her "sailor". Dizzy Gillespie, one of the young revolutionaries in Hines' band at the time, summed her up as follows. "Ella always played the role of a lady.........Sarah Vaughan acted just as one of the boys. She used the same language on the bandstand I used with the guys".
The Earl Hines band at the time, April 1943, was home to some of the most adventurous young musicians in jazz. Among them Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, trombonist Benny Green and drummer Shadow Wilson. Jazz historian Gunther Schuller recalled about Hines' band at the time, "They were playing all the flatted fifths and all the modern harmonies and substitutions and Dizzy Gillespie runs the trumpet section work...., what was so exciting about the Hines band was that they were playing harmonies and complex rhythms and textures that I already knew from classical music".
The Hines band was the perfect setting for someone with Sarah s evident musicianship and questing mind. She now learned how to polish her singing style from some of the best swing musicians and the adventurous young Turks of bebop, especially the. horn players.
Sarah would later reflect, "I thought Diz and Bird were the end. I still do. At the time I was singing more off-key than on. I think their playing influenced my singing. Horns always influenced me more than voices. All of them - Bird, Diz, Prez, Tatum, JJ, Benny Green, Thad Jones - listening to them and others like them listening to them and others like them listening to good jazz, inspired me".
Dizzy in turn returned the compliment by saying, “Sarah can sign notes, that other people can’t even hear”. Life with the Hines band was a thrill for Sarah. She loved and lived the band musician’s life to the full. She was paid fourteen dollars for every night that the band worked, usually three or four nights a week. She was always ready to join the men in the pranks and established herself as a trouper and champion at staying up all night to listen to music, talk, eat, smoke and drink. Some of her features with the Hines band were “Sweet And Lovely”, “Once In A While”, “He’s Funny That Way” and “East Pf The Sun”. Unfortunately, there are no recordings of Sarah with the Hines band, as commercial recording did not take place during her stay with the band due to the first American Federation of Musicians’ recording ban.
The Hines period also cemented the life-long friendship between Sarah and Billy Eckstine. They became lovers, but for one reason or another their ways separated, nevertheless there remained a strong connection between them for the rest of their lives. Eckstine taught her a lot about choosing repertoire, microphone techniques, phrasing and presentation in front of an audience. Sarah blossomed in his presence; he made her laugh and blush. Sarah, in turn forever inspired him with her style and versatility.
She learned fast during her days with Hines. Sarah immediately become aware that Charlie Parker was one of the musicians in the band with a heroin habit. The Hines band members state that Sarah never had anything to do with heroin, but she undoubtedly smoked marijuana with Bird and some of the other men on the road. Marijuana and other refreshments came with the territory. Eventually, although most probably not while with Hines band, Sarah discovered cocaine, a taste for which stayed with her for the rest of her life. She was a true
child of bebop.
I'LL WAIT AND PRAY
Billy Eckstine gained national prominence during his stay as principal vocalist with the Earl Hines band from 1939 until the spring of 1944. He provided his employer with massive hits like "Jelly Jelly" and "Stormy Monday Blues" and was celebrated as a singer of romantic ballads like "Skylark" and Tm Falling For You". "B" was a hunky, light skinned baritone with a voice that eased gently between blues and bedroom.
By the end of 1943, the young progressive musicians in the Hines band began to feel restricted in the pianists musical environment. They wanted to present the new bebop music in front of audiences. Dizzy Gillespie apparently urged Eckstine to form a band of his own, as B already had acquired a substantial following during his days with Hines. In the spring of 1944, Eckstine left Hines' band and embarked on a solo career, billing himself as Billy X-Tine, but under the sway of the new music he soon formed his own band. With Dizzy Gillespie as musical director and Charlie Parker as the kingpin of the reeds, this was not just another band. The various line-ups of Billy Eckstine's Orchestra included a collection of talent that was going to rule the roost in the world of jazz in the years ahead.
Trombonist/arranger Gerald Valentine and tenorist/arranger Budd Johnson, whom B had worked with in earlier years with Hines joined the new band as well, as did trumpeter Shorty McConnell and guitarist Connie Wainwright. Miles Davis, Fats Navarro, Kenny Dorham, Dexter Gordon, Wardell Gray, Gene Ammos, Sonny Stitt, Leo Parker, John Malachi and Art Blakey were some of the bright lights, who helped Eckstine great music and lose money during the mid 1940s.
After Eckstine's departure from Hines' band, Sarah stayed behind functioning as the bands' only singer for a short time, until Eckstine invited her to join his band in the spring of 1944. Sarah accepted B's invitation, and would later regard her days with B's band as an idyllic time for her musical development. With the Eckstine band, Sarah was once more at home with her friends, a band of ragtag bebop revolutionaries, for the most part.
Sarah recalled that the members of Eckstine's band used to discipline her if they did not like something she was doing musically. Sarah had a tendency towards flamboyancy, and the guys tried to tone her down. "I'm telling you, they used to beat me to death if I got out of line. I mean literally..". As for the musical challenge she said, "You had better sing within whatever chords they were playing, you had to know a little about music, or have a hell of an ear to stand in front of that band. I loved it, loved it!". John Malachi, the pianist in Eckstine's band and a later accompanist for Sarah in 1954, gave her the nickname "Sassy". Sarah liked that playful description of her fresh, tough, chin-up facade so much that she allowed everyone to call her "Sassy" or "Sass".
Sarah's recording opportunities with the Eckstine band were clearly limited, after all the band was designed as a support for Eckstine. On December 5,1944 Sarah made her recording debut when she sang "I'll Wait And Pray" backed by Billy Eckstine and his Orchestra for the DeLuxe label. Arranged and written by Gerald Valentine, "I'll Wait And Pray" a most assured performance by the 20 year old singer, sold well enough nationally to bring Sarah some notoriety, especially in the black community and amongst musicians.
On the last day of 1944, Sarah made her first recordings under her own name. Leonard Feather, an early devotee to Sarah's vocal art, had been hawking around various record companies with a demo that Sarah had cut on Dizzy Gillespie's "Night In Tunisia", then called "Interlude". Finally Donald Gabor at Continental Records agreed to bankroll a session. As usual independent labels at the time, the session was to be a low budget affair. Feather received $12.50 per side as pianist and arranger, while Sarah received twenty dollars for each of the four songs.
"Singing Off", a Feather composition with an unusual melody and words by Jessyca Russell, is sung effortlessly by Sarah and benefits from a fine tenor solo by Georgie Auld. "Interlude" represents the first recorded version of Dizzy Gillespie’s classic "Night In Tunisia". Dizzy took over piano duties from Leonard Feather here, as Feather had trouble reading the piano part. Sarah is flawless while Diz bops beautifully with a typically vivid break. “East Of The Sun” is classic Sarah, displaying her uncanny musicality, while Feather’s “No Smoke Blues”, lamenting the cigarette shortage of the period, is the weakest rack of the session. Both tunes contain cracking trumpet solos by Gillespie.
“Don’t Blame Me” is taken from a AFRS “Jubilee” broadcast of a performance by the Eckstine Orchestra at the Club Plantation in Watts, Los Angeles in February/March 1945. Sarah gives us a superb rendition of the Dorothy Fields/Jimmy McHugh standard, sensitively backed by the trumpet section in which Fats Navarro comes through loud and clear. The arrangement is by Tadd Dameron.
After a year with the Eckstine band, Sarah left the organization, with Eckstine s blessing, to pursue a solo career. Her training among some of the most brilliant musicians of the era had come to an end and her recordings started to create a following for her among black and white fans. Significantly she had also gained the adoration of fellow musicians in awe of her musicianship. B did not replace Sarah in his band and Sarah would never seek a steady job with another band after her Eckstine stint.
She now tried to establish herself as a star in her own right. She worked as a singer, singing and playing piano in Fifty Second Street clubs like the Three Deuces, the Famous Door, the Onyx and the Downbeat.
Dizzy Gillespie, who had left the Eckstine band a little before Sarah, recorded his third date for the small Guild label on May 11,1945. Sarah was invited to participate on this date. She sang her classic version of Ram Ramirez' "Lover Man" sensitively backed by Bird, Diz, pianist Al Haig, bassist Curley Russell and drummer Sid Catlett.
Sarahs first two 78's for Continental had done well enough for Donald Gabor to authorize Leonard Feather to line up another date with her. For the May 25,1945 session Feather lined up a formidable frontline of Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Woody Herman's tenor, star Flip Phillips, backed by a strong rhythm section of guitarist Bill De Arango, bassist Curley Russell and drummer Max Roach. Pianist Nat Jaffe had some difficulty with the part Tadd Dameron had written on "I'd Rather Have A Memory Than A Dream", another Feather/Russell) collaboration. Dameron takes over on piano here.
According to Feather, this session began disastrously, when Charlie Parker casually arrived an hour late with an apology but no explanation for his late appearance. Due to this, there was only time for three songs, instead of the planned four. Peggy Lees "What More Can A Woman Do" demonstrates Sarah's superb ballad mastery, but "Mean To Me" is the crowning achievement of this date, in which Sarah's great vocal is set alight by Bird s introduction and solo.
Around the time of her second Continental date Sarah guested once more, this time on a Tony Scott session for the Gotham label. Dizzy Gillespie, labeled as B.Bopstein, was on board again making up a strong frontline with clarinetist Scott, trombonist Trummy Young and tenorist Ben Webster. This was also the first session on which that superb accompanist, pianist Jimmy Jones, appears with Sarah. He would accompany Sarah for long periods during the fifties. Bassist Gene Ramey and drummer Eddie Nicholson rounded out the rhythm section. Sarah's delivery of the gorgeous Duke Ellington ballad "All To Soon" is masterful.
During the winter of 1945/46, Sarah worked for two months with the John Kirby Sextet at New York's Copacabana night club. She waxed four titles with this urbane little group for the Crown label on January 9,1946. Backed by sophisticated musicians like pianist Billy Kyle, altoist Russell Procope and clarinettist Buster Bailey, Sarah renders superb versions of standards like "You Go To My Head" and "It Might As Well Be Spring" a song she would revisit four years later with Miles Davis for the Columbia label.
Tadd Dameron's seldom heard "We're Through" is a rare Sarah Vaughan recording for the H.R.S. label from March 1946. Sarah is backed here by a group led by trombonist Dicky Wells. The trumpeter in this group was George Treadwell. Treadwell had been an early habitué of Minton's Playhouse, the cradle of bebop, without ever making the transition to modernity. He was a good looking well built man, who had known Sarah from the time she won the Apollo amateur contest. During an extended engagement at New York's Cafe Society Downtown, in the spring of 1946, Sarah was backed by drummer J.C. Heard's band which included Treadwell. He was fascinated by Sarah's voice, encouraging her to trust her instinct and noted later that he fell in love with her singing, a little bit later with the woman herself. Sarah and George Treadwell married in September 1946, after which Treadwell became Sarah's svengali, devoting himself successfully to building her career and turning Sarah into the diva, that she would become a little later.
In October 1945, violinist Stuff Smith invited Sarah to sing on his recording date for Albert Marx's Musicraft label. Stuff told Marx that he had written a song that he wanted him to hear and that he had the girl to sing it for him. As Sarah demonstrated the tune (it was "Time And Again"), Marx listened almost unbelievingly. "I kept telling myself", he recalls, "That she just could not be that good. I told Stuff I would like to record the song with this young lady singing it. He informed me that that would cost $10 extra".
Marx proposed a three year contract with royalties to Sarah at the Stuff Smith session, ironically Stuff did not get a contract. At the same time Marx's friend, publisher Howard Richmond, approached him about a new discovery whom he described as "the greatest singer in the world". Marx told him that he was too late, since a singer filling that description was just about to sign with Musicraft. It turned out they were both talking about Sarah.
On April 30,1946 Sarah recorded "A Hundred Years From Today" backed by the fine big band of Georgie Auld. The arrangement is by Tadd Dameron, who aside of arranging for Billy Eckstine also contributed to the Georgie Auld book from 1944 to 1946. Dameron s subsequent writing for Sarah grew out of this arrangement he wrote for her to sing on this Auld date. The arrangement remained dear to the highly critical Dameron. He once said "I liked it pretty well for that day and age, and it still sounds good today".
On May 9,1946, Sassy made her first recording as a leader for Musicraft. Sarah was still enjoying her extended engagement at Cafe Society Downtown at the time, where owner Barney Josephson paid her 90 dollars a week to sing at intermissions. The May 9th, 1946 session was an ambitious affair, Sarah was backed by an All Star band consisting of the legendary trumpeter Freddie Webster, altoist Leroy Harris, Hank Ross on bass clarinet, Leo Parker, an ex-colleague from the Eckstine band on baritone sax, pianist Bud Powell, bassist Ted Sturgis and
bebop's premier drummer Kenny Clarke, plus a string section. Tadd Dameron wrote the arrangements to the four recorded songs. He also composed "If You Could See Me Now", inspired by the coda of Dizzy Gillespie's solo on "Groovin' High". This is one of the most beautiful of jazz ballads and Sarah's Musicraft version is the definitive performance of it, with Freddie Webster's poignant trumpet introduction. Sarah also sings "My Kinda Love", "I Could Make You Love Me, If You Let Me" and the jaunty but relatively conventional "You're Not The Kind" which very well demonstrates Sarah's ability to hear changes in her upward modulations at the end of each song. She would record "You're Not The Kind" again on her classic 1954 Emarcy session with Clifford Brown and Paul Quinichette. The superb performances of this 5th May 1946 session are now established; jazz classics.
Sassy was once more featured with the George Auld band on the June 14, 1946 Musicraft session. “You’re Blasé” has a chart by the then 20 year old tenorist/arranger Al Cohn.
On of Sarah’s most rewarding sessions for the Musicraft label took place on July 18, 1946. This was the first occasion on which George Treadwell made his presence felt as leader of Sassy’s backing group, that featured such luminaries as Big Nick Nichols on tenor sax, bassist Al McKibbon and Sarah’s favorite accompanist Jimmy Jones on piano. George and Ira Gershwin’s “I’ve Got A Crush On You” kicked off this memorable date.
I'm Through With Love" Matty Malneck and Gus Kahn s ballad, that was introduced in 1931 by Mildred Bailey, shows striking maturity in Sassy s straightforward chorus and a half plus tag treatment. Burton Lane and Harold Adamson's "Everything I Have Is Yours" is another demonstration of how Sarah was able to rise above her surroundings, ruling majestically above the somewhat quaint arrangement. "Body And Soul", Sarah s crisp recording of the Johnny Green classic with which she won the amateur contest at the Apollo is a masterpiece. The second part of the song represents an early example of Sarah’s instrument like variations, a style that she would develop to the highest standards in later years.
Teddy Wilson, who so expertly accompanied Billie Holiday during the 1930’s, is in charge on Sarah’s next two Musicraft sessions. An octet that features trumpeter Buck Clayton, alto saxophonist Scoville Browne, tenorist Don Byas, baritone saxophonist George James plus Wilson on piano, Remo Palmieri on guitar, Billy Taylor on bass and drummer J. C. Heard provides backing to Sarah’s ultra hip harmonies on "Penthouse Serenade" and "Don't Worry 'Bout Me" November 19,1946.
Teddy Wilson underlines his ability to accompany a singer as few other pianists can on the two quartet sides of November 19,1946. "Time After Time" and "September Song" also benefit from some breathy Charlie Ventura tenor sax. When Sarah recorded her next Musicraft session, on July 2,1947, George Treadwell was everywhere.
The couple had married on September 16, 1946. Their relationship had been the source of a certain amount of gossip. Pianist Cliff Smalls heard some musicians say that Treadwell was stupid to give up his horn to take care of Sassy. Other musicians had a different impression, they thought that Treadwell latched onto Sarah because he was a hustler, not because he loved and admired her. Arranger Gil Fuller, the other hand, knew George Treadwell rather well and thought that George was the ideal man for Sarah; he was street smart and loved the girl and her talent.
Sarah was undoubtedly ambitious, but she lacked George Treadwell's focus and business acumen. "I sing, I just sing", she was fond of telling people. And when she wasn't singing, she could hang out longer and harder than most people. Treadwell's emphasis on promotion, both of Sassy and himself, irritated people, including Sassy. She tired of the way he was always correcting her grammar and telling her who to speak to and who to avoid. As time went by, Treadwell would try to direct every aspect of Sarah s personal life, yet when he and Sarah started out together, everything was smooth. Never before had anyone paid so much attention to her, it was exciting for Sarah to have George Treadwell as an ally.
George Treadwell and his Orchestra backed Sarah on her July 2, 1947 session. The band was a classic big band, 5 trumpets, 3 trombones, 5 saxes and rhythm, with notable musicians like trumpeter Emmett Berry, and ex-Billy Eckstine colleague Budd Johnson on tenor sax in its ranks. The rhythm section was top-notch, Sarah's favorite pianist Jimmy Jones, bassist Al McKibbon and drummer J.C. Heard.
All four songs on this date were ballads with Sarah in magnificent voice. "Tenderly" was the most memorable song of this date. It was composed by the late Walter Gross, then musical director for Albert Marx at Musicraft. This is the very first recorded version of this wonderful ballad which has since become a jazz standard. The song is first introduced as a waltz (rare in those days for a jazz-singer), before converting to 4/4. "Tenderly" became Sarah's first notable hit. It rose to its peak position of 27 on the hit parade during the week of November 15, 1947
Sarah now registered for the first time in the Down Beat poll, where she won the award as the most popular female vocalist of 1947, while she also won the Esquire New Star Award for 1947.
The October 10, 1947 session for Musicraft saw the beginning of a gradual shift away from pure jazz singnig to a style that appealed to a broader public. Backed by Ted Dale’s Orchestra, a large anonymouse orchestra with strings, Sarah shows her ability to transcend the world of pop and jazz material. It has oftern been said that she could well have become an opera singer; seldom, if ever was the potential more gloriously demonstrated than on “The Lord’s Prayer”.
In one song it shows off, the richness of her contralto range, the sweetness of her soprano and the spiritual power of her elemental sound. Marion Anderson sent Sassy a message of congratulations after heading Sarah’s version of what up until now was Marion’s song. In Down Beat’s “My best on wax” column of 1950, Sarah, who by then was already recording for Columbia stated, “The Lord’s Prayer” is both my favorite of the records I’ve made and the one I consider my best. It’s the only records of mine I ever play. I’d always wanted to record it, but I thought I had no business doing it. Marion Anderson had recorded "The Lord's Prayer" you know". The spiritual "Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child" was a worthy "B" side for "The Lords Prayer". Sarah rounded off this recording date in a more secular vein with two superb ballad performances of Vernon Duke's "I Can't Get Started" and Alex Wilder's "Trouble Is A Man".
With a second recording ban looming at the end of 1947, Musicraft now doubled its efforts to get as much material by Sarah in the can as possible to cover for the lack of recording opportunities in 1948. The November 8, 1947 date was a very productive one, on which Sarah delivered no less than nine sides. Backed again by Ted Dale and his Orchestra. The occasional clarinet passages are played by ex Gene Krupa ace member Sam Musiker, while pianist Nick Tagg, guitarists Tony Mottola, and Al Casey bassist Mark Shopnick and drummer Cozy Cole plus unknown French horn, harp and strings made up the Ted Dale Orchestra. Highlights of this marathon session are Gus Kahn and Walter Donaldson's "Love Me Or Leave Me", a reprise of her very first recording, Jerry Valentine's “I’ll Wait And Pray" and Phil Moore's charming "I Feel So Smoochie".
Buddy De Sylva, Lew Brown and Ray Henderson's obscure "Blue Grass" seems to have
been recorded at the end of the extended studio date of November 8,1947.
The pre-recording ban panic became obvious when Sarah recorded two Musicraft sessions in three days during October 1947. On a December 27 session, Sarah was accompanied by Richard Maltby's string Orchestra, a lush backing that also included flute, harp and rhythm. Sarah majestically delivers Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn's "It's You Or No One", but it was the other song recorded at this date that would become Sarah's biggest hit on the Musicraft label. "It's Magic" was written by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn for Doris Day's movie debut "Romance On The High Seas". "It's Magic", entered the best sellers chart on August 14,1948 where it peaked at number 11 in an eleven week stay on the hit parade.
Two days later Sarah entered the studios again. This time she was backed by a quartet featuring her regular pianist Jimmy Jones, guitarist John Collins, bassist. Al McKibbon and drummer Kenny Clarke. This is probably the reason that she sounds at her most relaxed on this occasion. "What A Difference A Day Makes" a song of Spanish origin originally known as "CuandoVuelva ATu Lado" and a massive hit later on for Dinah Washington as well as Esther Phillips, is typical of Sassy s melodic, harmonic and tonal values during this period, note her last note, an F in the key of E Flat - not many singers took those kind of chances in 1947.
Richard Lewine and Arnold Howitt wrote "Gentleman Friend" for a long forgotten 1948 revue. This rarely performed song has the sort of harmonic pattern and melody line that has always been right for Sarah. Bud Green and Michael Edwards' "Once In A While" had been established as a hit song for Tommy Dorsey, Horace Heidt and Louis Armstrong ten years before Sassy recorded her lovely, bop tinged version for Musicraft. Dorothy Parker and Jack King wrote "How Am I To Know" in 1929, while Ava Gardner revived the tune in the forgettable comedy "Pandora And The Flying Dutchman" in 1950. Sassy finishes this lovely session with her rather straightforward version, superbly backed by Jimmy Jones and his swinging rhythm section.
Eden Ahbez' "Nature Boy" caused a sensation in 1948. Nat King Cole scored a million seller with the song in May 1948. Frank Sinatra and Dick Haymes also had hits with the song in the same year. Sarah recorded "Nature Boy" on April 8, 1948. During the recording ban Sarah and several other singers were able to record with vocal backgrounds instead of union musicians. Sassy recorded this haunting tune backed by the Earl Rogers Choir and also had a top ten hit with it, it peaked at number 9 on the hit parade in July of 1948. Paul Madeira and Jimmy Dorsey's "I'm Glad There's You" once more backed by the Earl Rogers Choir was the "B" side of "Nature Boy" and, ironically, a superior vocal performance of a song that would remain part of her repertoire for the rest of her life.
During 1948, George Treadwell arranged for Sarah to sign with Tim and Moe Gale's booking agency, where Tim Gale acted as Sassy s personal agent. Tim Gale soon organized a nationwide tour for Sarah, who together with George Treadwell and Jimmy Jones set out in a well-worn car to tour the country in 1948. She appeared at the Blue Angel in New York, the Rhumboogie and the Sherman in Chicago, the Bocage in Hollywood and Ciro s and the Casbah in Los Angeles. Sarah won both the Down Beat and Metronome polls in 1948, while Orchestra World, a magazine that focused on the big bands and Billboard also picked her as number one vocalist.
Metronome magazine was especially lyrical in their praise of Sarah who was named "Influence of the year" stating, "Her bent notes and her twisting of musical phrases have been the envy of and basis for the styles of a good many singers...many of them were mimicking her every vocal stand and prance; not since Billie Holiday has a singer hit other singers so hard".
Sassy s new vocal style did not impress everybody though. Dale Harrison of the Chicago Sun disliked her singing and misspelled her name when he wrote, "Vaughn's tempo drags unconsciously, the boys in the rhythm section have to yawn between every beat, and her wandering around notes, which I assume is what the disc jockeys would call "style", struck me as annoying and amateurish".
Time magazine published an article in its December 20, 1948 issue, stating that Sarah Vaughan sang "in a style like a kazoo". When George Hoefer in his capacity as editor of Down Beat wrote a letter of protest to Time, they replied to Hoefer as follows, "The editors have read your comments on Time's reporting of jazz, and in particular Be-Bop, with interest. Some explanation is in order on our saying that Sarah Vaughan s voice sounded like a kazoo. One of the things about her singing which most struck our reviewer is her ability to sing half and quarter tones with astounding accuracy. The best method of describing this accomplishment seemed to be to compare her singing with some musical instrument, especially since be-boppers use voice as another instrument. One of the few pieces which can reproduce this variety in tone is the kazoo, so that the similie was meant neither unkindly nor inaccurately".
Despite controversy over her style and how to describe it, by the end of the 1940s, Sassy had a very busy working schedule and only six to eight weeks of the year to rest in.
By September 1948, Musicraft was facing bankruptcy. In court the company claimed that Sarah had not honored her contract. Treadwell counterclaimed that the company was not paying Sarah all the royalties she was due.
Treadwell hired Andrew J. Feinman, an attorney who specialised in the music industry, who helped break her contract with Musicraft. On January 29,1949, the trade papers reported that Musicraft contemplated releasing Sarah of her contract if, "the singer waived all claims to money owed to her" and "any claims to her Musicraft masters, both those released and those in the bin, and for the chirp to cut two more sides for the label at her or Columbia's expense".
Anticipating the dissolution of her Musicraft contract, Sassy had jumped labels to Columbia. On January 20, 1949 she recorded "Bianca", "As You Desire Me" and "Black Coffee" and on January 25 "While You Were Gone". When the lawsuits were settled, Columbia Records were free to release the recordings she had already made. Sassy s first Columbia session was done with arranger and conductor Joe Lippman. She now presented herself as a pop singer, singing popular ballads in a straight-forward style moving effortlessly between her soprano and contralto registers. "Black Coffee", a song that was something of an art song at the time, commenting on the comparatively helpless condition of women in the pre-lib era, was an immediate success. It reached the 13th place on the hit parade in June 1949. Allie Wrubel's" As You Desire Me", first put on the map by Russ Columbo in 1932 was a worthy B-side of "Black Coffee". Cole Porters rarely performed "Bianca" rounded off Sarah's first session for Columbia records. Tenor saxophonist Lucky Thompson composed "While You Were Gone", which one might call a musician's tune, an amalgamation of "I'll Remember April" and "Louise", typical of the era.
An unknown studio orchestra backed Sassy on her May 6,1949 session. Haven Gillespie and Beasley Smiths "That Lucky Old Sun" was one of the great hits of 1949. Frankie Laine, Vaughan Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong and Bob Houston all enjoyed hits with the tune that year, as Sassy who scored a respectable 14th place on the hit parade in September of that year.
Joe Lippman and his Orchestra were once more on board for Sarah's July 7, 1949 session. The studio orchestra included some name jazz and swing musicians in its ranks such as altoist Hymie Schertzer, bassist Jack Lesberg and above all pianist Jimmy Jones. "Make Believe (You Are Glad When You're Sorry)", was the commercial winner from this session charting at number 20 in Qctober 1949. John Klenner and Sam Lewis’ “Just Friends” however provides one of Sarah's best moments of this neglected period.
Hugh Winterhalter arranged and conducted the band on Bobby Troup's "Lonely Girl". No strings this time and a little more pep and punch thanks to the presence of musicians of the calibre of Billy Butterfield, Jimmy Maxwell, Will Bradley and a swinging rhythm section with Jimmy Jones, Tony Mottola, Bob Haggart and Terry Snyder.
Three days later the same band backed Sassy once more, Gus Arnheim, Abe Lyman and Arthur Freed's good old "I Cried For You" turned into one of Sarah's classic performances, illustrating Sassy s application of the precepts of bebop into her singing, and showing a flexibility that rivals that of the better horn players.
YOU'RE MINE YOU
Sarah returned to Cafe Society Downtown at the end of 1949. The difference was that she now received $2250 plus a percentage a week as opposed to the $200 a week when George Treadwell booked her into the same club in 1947.
It is interesting to read John S. Wilsons review in Down Beat's February 10,1950 issue of Sarah's Cafe Society stint, confirming George Treadwell's transformation of his protégée. "Although she has won Down Beat's poll for the last three years as the top girl singer, not with a band, it was 1949 which saw Sarah develop into a finished entertainer who was really worth the large wads of cash being tossed at her. Just a year ago when she played at the Clique in New York, Sarah was an interesting singer with a lot of distressing characteristics. She lacked presence, she was overdoing her stylistic gesturing and facial expressions as well as her vocal calisthenics, and she looked - to put it bluntly - somewhat in the neighborhood of a mess. The changes that have been wrought on her in one year's time are little short of a miracle, she was dressed tastefully; her hair and makeup had been worked out to give her a pleasantly glamorous touch, and she handled herself on the floor extremely well. She was in command of the situation at all times, and there were no jarring notes to detract attention from her superb voice or the individual way in which she uses it. It was in this last year that she achieved the polish which transformed her from a relatively exoterically appreciated singer into a showman who can hold her own with those select few who roost up on the top rung. This very process of acquiring this polish has made her a better singer, one who gives the impression of having complete confidence in her abilities, who knows what she can do and does it without straining, with complete ease and wonderfully well".
Another triumph for Sassy was her performance at Philadelphia's Robin Hood Dell in mid 1949. Billed as "100 Men and a girl" Sarah starred in a concert with both the Duke Ellington band and the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra; Sassy was the girl. George and Sarah now had earned enough money to buy a three-story house at 21 Avon Avenue in Newark. Treadwell renovated the first two floors for an apartment for Sarah's parents and also designed and built a nice apartment for Sarah and himself on the top floor. Sarah loved the place and showed it off by inviting her friends to see it.
On December 21, 1949 Sarah entered the Columbia studios, backed once more by a studio band under the baton of Joe Lippman. The band on this date included jazz stalwarts like trumpeters Billy Butterfield and Taft Jordan, saxophonist Toots Mondello, Hymie Schertzer and George Kelly and a rhythm section consisting of Jimmy Jones, Kenton bassist Eddie Safranski, guitarist Al Caiola and drummer Cozy Cole.
"You're Mine You", the gorgeous tune by Johnny Green and Edward Heyman, was arranged by Tadd Dameron and the highlight of this session. "I'm Crazy To Love You", "Summertime" and "The Nearness Of You" from the same session were arranged by Joe Lippman. "I'm Crazy To Love You" was a small hit for Sarah in June 1950.
The next day Sassy reunited with Billy Eckstine to record four tracks that were originally released on the MGM label, on which Eckstine scored his biggest hits in this period. These light hearted tracks cannot be compared with the hot and boppish music both Sassy and B had made a few years earlier. Yet they included some lovely moments, the lush sounds were obviously aimed at an audience of which few might have been familiar with the sounds they recorded for the De Luxe label.
Norman Leyden arranged and conducted on Sassy s next two songs, recorded on May 4,1950. Leyden had been an arranger for the Glenn Miller Air Force Band during World War 2 and later chief arranger for the post-war Miller band led by Tex Beneke. "Our Very Own" and "Don't Be Afraid" are dated songs aimed at the pop market, only worth listening to for the superb quality of Sassy's voice.
The next session Sarah recorded for Columbia took place on May 18 and 19,1950. The backing band was labeled as George Treadwell and his All-Stars. All-Stars they certainly were, especially as George Treadwell is not playing on this date, the only real jazz date Sarah recorded during her four years on the Columbia label. Trumpeter Miles Davis, tenor saxophonist Budd Johnson and trombonist Benny Green were old friends from the Earl Hines - Billy Eckstine era of Sassy's career. Clarinetist Tony Scott, pianist Jimmy Jones, guitarist Freddie Green, bassist Billy Taylor and drummer J.C. Heard complete the octet that backs Sassy on "Ain't Misbehavin'", "Goodnight My Love" and "Can't Get Out Of This Mood". On "It Might As Well Be Spring" we hear Miles Davis, Tony Scott, Jimmy Jones, Billy Taylor and J.C. Heard. In his autobiography "Miles", Miles Davis acknowledges his pleasure with his playing on this track. The full octet is back for "Mean To Me", "Come Rain Or Come Shine", "Nice Work If You Can Get It" and "East Of The Sun", except that Mundell Lowe replaces Freddie Green on guitar. Sarah is completely at ease and is obviously enjoying herself with this select group of jazz players, who backed her on this lovely session.
Norman Leyden and his Orchestra once more backed Sassy on two more songs recorded on July 20, 1950. “I Love The Guy” and “Thinking Of You” was a very successful record for Sarah, it bought her her first double header hit. “I Love The Guy” reached the top 10 in September 1950 and the B-side “Thinking Of You” reached 16th spot on the hit parade two months later. The pianist in Norman Leyden’s studio orchestra on this occasion was Bed Powell, who is virtually inaudible.
The same band as on the July 20 session, with some minor variations, backed Sassy on September 5, 1950, but this time under the direction of hoboist and Columbia Records’ A and R chief at the time, Mitch Miller. Sarah turned in a lively version of Juan Tizol’s swinger “Perdido” on this date. “Whippa-Whippa-Woo” served as a B-side to “Perdido”, recorded two days later once more under Mitch Miller’s direction. This is another forgettable side.
Norman Leyden was leading the studio orchestra and arranged the two titles Sarah recorded on December 6, 1950. Frank Loesser’s “I’ll Know” is beautifully sung, while “De Gas Pipe, She Leakin’ Joe”, is a forgettable novelty with an exotic flavor.
It is at this point in Sarah’s career that our survey of her early years ends. The 1950s would see her continue to make a large amount of romantic hit records which gradually brought her a large middle of the road audience. In 1954 Sarah switched from Columbia to Mercury/Emarcy Records. On these labels she carefully crafted a multi-directional recording career. Her popular recordings appeared on the Mercury label while on Emarcy. Mercury's jazz line, she released her jazz oriented product including the classic "Swingin' Easy'' album, backed by a trio of John Malachi, bassist Joe Benjamin and drummer Roy Haynes. In 1960 Sarah switched to Morris Levy's Roulette label followed by associations with Mercury, again, and Mainstream. Norman Granz s Pablo label presented Sarah's late successes like the fine "Crazy And Mixed Up" and "Copacabana" albums.
One of the greatest voices of the 20th century was silenced on the evening of Tuesday, April 7, 1990, when Sarah succumbed to advanced lung cancer.
Joel Whitburn - Pop Memories 1890 - 1954
Leslie Gourse - Sassy, the life of Sarah Vaughan