VAUGHAN, Sarah: Interlude
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"Interlude"Early Recordings, 1944-1947
Like Ella before her, Sarah Vaughan 'The Divine One' was an unknown amateur when she won a Harlem competition and, like Ella, arguments raged as to whether or not she really was a jazz singer. The purists complained that, although her rhythmic pulse and musicianship (she was an accomplished pianist) were never in doubt, her controlled approach to singing "as if she were an instrument" lacked the spontaneity of Fitzgerald and Holiday.
Sarah Lois Vaughan was born in Newark, New Jersey, on 27th March, 1924. Her parents were both musical: her carpenter father sang and played guitar, her laundress mother played piano and sang in the Newark Mount Zion Baptist church choir into which young 'Sassy' was soon to follow. At twelve, Sarah accompanied the service and sang as a soloist and for ten years studied music theory and trained both as pianist and organist. Leaving school at an early age, she decided to make singing her career and entered various local radio 'Amateur Hour' contests, repeating Ella Fitzgerald's historic precedent when, in October 1943, she entered and won the 'Amateur Night' competition at the New York Apollo Theatre. Billy Eckstine (1914-1993), the Pittsburgh-born trumpeter, guitarist and (at that time) vocalist with Earl Hines' band, was present on that auspicious occasion. Impressed by Sarah's musical talent, he recommended her to Hines as a second pianist with the orchestra.
With Charlie Parker on tenor, Benny Green on trombone and Eckstine as vocalist, the Earl 'Fatha' Hines big band has been aptly defined "the virtual nursery of bop". It also provided suitable recruits for the short-lived Eckstine big band. When Billy broke away to the dismay of Hines - to form his own group he took with him, among others, Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Shorty McConnell, Gail Brockton and Budd Johnson, all key figures in the emergence of the new bebop phenomenon.
The twenty-year-old Sarah made her recording debut as a vocalist with Eckstine's big band for the Deluxe label on December 5, 1944 (I'll Wait And Pray) and, on New Year's Eve, with a smaller ensemble billed 'Dizzy Gillespie & His Orchestra', for Continental, recorded a legendary series of titles (including Gillespie's Interlude and the Leonard Feather numbers No Smokes and Signing Off, plus a bebop version of the romantic 1935 Brooks Bowman song East Of The Sun) for which sterling efforts she (allegedly) reluctantly accepted the derisory no-royalties fee of $20! That notwithstanding, a further Continental session (25th May) produced tine versions of Peggy lee and Dave Barbour's What More Can A Woman Do? and the 1929 Fred Ahlert standard Mean To Me.
On 11th May, with the Gillespie Quintet, she recorded the classic landmark Lover Man (Guild) and later that year, after having meanwhile negotiated better deals with Crown and Musicraft, Sarah saw her career as a solo vocalist take off in earnest with a series of minor classics. In the John Kirby session of January 1946 we hear the pre-echo of the wistfully seductive, cool style which was to denote the mature Sarah Vaughan in Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie's tender 1938 song You Go To My Head and It Might As Well Be Spring (hit-song of the contemporary Rodgers & Hammerstein film-musical State Fair).
During 1946, Sarah recorded a wide range of material with a variety of session ensembles: with Dicky Wells' Big Seven on 21st March (We're Through); with the Georgie Auld big band on 30th April (A Hundred Years From Today); with George Treadwell's Orchestra on 18th July (a revival of the 1932 Matt Malneck-Gus Kahn hit I'm Through With love) and with various Teddy Wilson ensembles (including Rube Bloom's Don't Worry 'Bout Me, on August 19, and Kurt Weill's September Song - hit of the 1938 Kurt Weill musical Knickerbocker Holiday -on 19th November). In November 1947 her recording of the Walter Gross-Jack Lawrence hit "Tenderly" (another collaboration with George Treadwell) entered the US pop charts at No.27.
Peter Dempsey, 2001