100 Jazz Profiles
1924 - 1990
Singer. A singer of such formidable gifts that she became known as the 'Divine One', Sarah Vaughan was the first great singer of the modern era of jazz. A pianist and singer, she had made her name in her native Newark, New Jersey and in amateur concerts by the time she joined the Earl Hines band as singer and second pianist in 1943.
Owing to a recording ban, she made no records with this group (which also included Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Art Blakey), but she went on to record in 1944 with the band set up by Hines's other singer Billy Eckstine. For virtually all the rest of her career she appeared as a star in her own right, and not as the singer in anyone else's band.
Her jazz credentials were impeccable - she had great pitch, timing and melodic imagination, and she understood the harmony of bebop. But she spent the late 1940s and early 1950s making a series of highly successful but predominantly commercial discs, with little jazz content. In the 1950s, she began to combine similar commercial projects with a string of jazz records.
On these she seldom played piano herself, and was accompanied by the cream of American jazz players, either in her regular trio, or augmenting the studio sessions with brass and reeds. Her own group was to become a launchpad for young players such as Chick Corea and Jan Hammer, but she also employed many jazz musicians on a long term basis who just wanted to accompany her exceptional singing - including pianists Jimmy Jones and John Malachi, bassist Joe Benjamin, and drummer Roy Haynes, who were collectively the mainstay of her 1950s groups.
Her range was exceptional, with total control from her lowest notes to a high bat-squeak, and she could scat-sing with more invention than anyone in jazz. She was also capable of profound ballad performances that wrung every drop of emotion from a song.
Lesley Gourse: Sassy - the Life of Sarah Vaughan (New York, Scribner, 1993)
The Essential Sarah Vaughan (CBS 467152-2)
Suggested track: East of the Sun
Site relating to Ken Burns' film Jazz, with audio and bio links.
on radio 3
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