VOICES Notes and news on Jazz Vocals releases
22 SEP 13 ANNE FARNSWORTH
Singer Sarah Vaughan shares a vaunted position with Ella Fitzgerald as one of the two most influential and important jazz singers of all time. Concord released an updated version of her 1979 Pablo two-album undertaking, a definitive compilation of Duke Ellington music. Sophisticated Lady: The Duke Ellington Songbook, is an astounding achievement, a 2-disc offering of 27 tracks including six previously unreleased tracks.
This is the best jazz has to offer, with a stunning pedigree of first-rate musicians led by legendary producer Norman Granz. Granz founded the Pablo label in 1973, having sold off his four previous labels, including Verve, a decade earlier. He signed Vaughan in 1978, shocked that she had been without a recording contract for the past three years. She went on to release exemplary albums including a Brazilian-themed recording and a wonderful collaboration with guitarist Joe Pass. All of Granz's Pablo releases feature the crème de la crème of 20th century jazz, curated by a man who for 50 plus years was a leader in presenting the uppermost level of American musical talent.
Granz was first introduced to Vaughan's remarkable voice when she performed at one of his Jazz At The Philharmonic concerts in 1946 at Carnegie Hall. Ellington Songbook, originally released in 1980, shows Vaughan, some 35 years later, still at the height of her powers.
What can be said about Vaughan's voice that hasn't already been reported during her 40 years of stardom? Her remarkable gifts combined a three-octave range with an impeccable ear, formal musical training and a bop sensibility that led her, like Ella, Anita O'Day and Betty Carter, to instrumental-style improvisation, her musical influences coming from horn players rather than other singers.
An accomplished pianist, she first appeared in the Apollo Theater's famed talent contest as an accompanist for a singing girlfriend. She later returned to compete as a singer herself, performing "Body And Soul." She won, of course.
Ellington Songbook features famed arranger/bandleader Benny Carter and a full orchestra including a rhythm section of pianist Jimmy Rowles, Andy Simpkins on bass and drummer Grady Tate.
Recorded between 1979-80, they feature not only the most beloved of Ellington's compositions but also the ones that are the most difficult to sing. Originally written as instrumentals, the melodies have huge ranges with large leaps that challenge even the most accomplished vocalists. A must-have addition to any jazz lover's collection, this release is a tour de force, a fitting tribute not only to Ellington, one of our most important American composers, but for the original sophisticated lady herself.