Thursday, March 27, 2014

Come Sail Away: Sassy Sarah Swings

OK, today was a tough one, folks. Major heavyweights all sharing a birthday... who gets the nod? There were three candidates, two guys and a gal. In the end, the men -- tenor sax titan Ben Webster and Genesis founder Tony Banks -- cancelled each other out and I decided to go with the lady. This blog is such a Supreme Sausage Fest anyway, so I thought we gotta mix it up and get some female energy up in here.
Yes, the Divine Miss Sarah Vaughan -- often called "Sassy" and "Sailor" for her choice vocabulary selections -- would have been 90 years old today. Is there a more distinctive 20th Century voice we can name? Wait'll you see her command the stage in this unreleased footage from 1969 I've got posting today. It's not just her neon orange lipstick that stops the show... when you can sing as expressively and with the range of someone like her, no one is talking much in the audience during your set.
I just have to say, thank Heavens for German TV. These rebroadcasts they run are so historic and enthralling, if I had the satellite station on which they air I'd likely never want to leave the house. Just the other day the WDR HD channel ran a whole Kraftwerk set from 1970, and I grabbed it even though I can't even watch HD videos on my computer because it's too old and 2008 for that type of thing. But I have that hour of footage, just for when I get a better desktop!
This Sarah Vaughan concert isn't in HD (yes! I can watch it!) but looks marvelous regardless. The audience know they are in the presence of utmost musical royalty and are hanging on every note and every phrase like there is nothing else going on in their world at that moment. Sarah swings and swoops through 61 minutes of standards and then-current pop songs in her own sweet way, causing the assembled to go suitably nuts at every break between tunes.
And they should go crazy, this is Sarah V. we are talking about here. Many, many people feel she is the greatest voice of all time or at least of our lifetimes; there are debates about this idea all the time raging across the interwebs, and her name comes up regularly and often as a contender for that ultimate accolade. Regardless of who is #1, she's definitely got her hat in the ring for Most Distinctive and Awesome Singer of the 20th Century.
Sarah Vaughan
Berliner Jazztage
Philharmonie Hall
Berlin, Germany

01 Just One of Those Things
02 Fly Me to the Moon
03 band intros
04 Serenata
05 Time After Time
06 The Trolley Song
07 By the Time I Get to Phoenix
08 The Sweetest Sounds
09 Polka Dots and Moonbeams
10 Day In Day Out
11 What Now My Love
12 Love Is Hanging Around the Corner
13 Didn't We?
14 Misty
15 If I Had a Bell

Total time: 1:01:06

Sarah Vaughan - vocals
Johnny Veith -piano
Gus Mancuso - bass
Eddy Pucci - drums

PAL DVD from a WDR-TV digital rebroadcast
1.89 GB/March 2014 archive link
This is such a stellar set... I was poking around the web and found this recollection by Torsten Kappel, who saw her in Denmark a week previous to this set and can sum it up better than I can. He writes: 

"This material is from the early concert at 4 pm on November 9, 1969. German television videotaped additional songs from the late night session. I attended the concert in Tivoli, Copenhagen some days earlier, from which some songs were also televised. (About 20 minutes of music). Miss Vaughan shared the bill with Lionel Hampton and his Big Band. It is a pity that there are only few videos available with her from her early career (1945-1955). The earliest one is from the late forties and not generally accessible to the public. I guess at that time US television did not use many black artists, and she must have been one of the first 'cross-over' artists, who gained popularity also with a white audience. In that sense she was (also) a pioneer. Her voiced darkened through the years and became deeper. From 1981 on you could feel that she was somehow exhausted, but in Berliner Jazztage 1969 she was still at her peak, good-looking and sensual. There were no other female pop or jazz singers who could sing ballads like Miss Vaughan. Ella Fitzgerald for example performed all songs much the same way, but Sarah Vaughan had a deep understanding of the essence of ballads. Just listen to 'My Funny Valentine'. Even today it is hard to find a voice with that quality. She remains the greatest female jazz singer of the 20th Century."