I was commissioned by the Library of Congress in the US to write the accompanying essay to go with Sarah Vaughan's Live in Japan album which was inaugurated into the collection. A huge honour for a non America, I contacted musicians who had played in Billy Eckstine's band to get information. The essay is one of two I have had commissioned for Congress and it is a pleasure to provide researched pieces like this.
Live in Japan is an album by Sarah Vaughan, recorded live at the Nakano Sun Plaza Hall in Tokyo in 1973. Originally released as two volumes, with volume 1 containing 14 songs and Volume 2 with 13, it is now billed as a single album, with a double CD set released in 1993. Personnel is Sarah on vocals, and piano on The Nearness Of You, Carl Shroeder on piano, John Giannelli on double bass, and Jimmy Cobb on drums. The album entered the United States Library of Congress's National Recording Registry in 2007.
This recording captures the essence of Vaughan at her peak, and one can understand why when Chicago radio host Dave Garroway gave her the nickname, 'The Divine One,' the name stuck. She was also called 'Sassy' because she had other sides to her character, which showed through even when she was young. When racists attacked her and her friends outside the Cafe Society club in the 1940s, Vaughan fought hard and received a split lip and black eye for her efforts. She also had many run-ins with record labels and yet maintained a naiveté which was part of her appeal.
Born to a religious family, Vaughan grew up in Newark. Her father was a carpenter and her mother a laundress. She had piano lessons from age 7, sang in the church choir, and loved listening to music. She taught herself to sing, and her inspirations were Rosemary Clooney and Marian Anderson - an important civil rights figure in the 1930s and the first black woman to sing at the Metropolitan Opera. Sarah went to Newark Arts School but left to concentrate on music. She and her friends regularly crossed the Hudson to see bands in Harlem. She got her break, so the story goes, when her friend, Dora Robinson, entered a competition to win USD 10 and a week's booking as a singer at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem. Sarah accompanied her on piano. Dora came second, but Sarah went back as a singer and won. She performed for an hour to an enchanted audience. In November 1942, at just 18 years old, she had a week's work opening for Ella Fitzgerald.
Billy Eckstine was the singer with Earl Hines' band, and on hearing Vaughan sing, he told Hines about her. Hines gave her a place in his band as second pianist and singer. Soon she was first singer and just 19. Eckstine and Hines became father figures to the young singer, and, supported by other band members, she proved herself a talented pianist. She moved with Eckstine when he left Hines' orchestra to form his own. Marvin 'Doc' Holladay, a clarinet player in Eckstine's orchestra, remembers this period and commented when Eckstine realized his pianist had this amazing voice, he replaced her with another pianist so she could sing, and they could record together. When Vaughan left Eckstine's band to pursue a solo career, she and Eckstine remained friends.
Vaughan began her solo career in clubs on New York's 52nd Street. She recorded Lover Man for Guild, and then, still largely unknown by the general public, she got a contract with Musicraft, then Columbia. In 1947 she married her manager, George Treadwell, and considered with management taken care of, she had just one job left to do - sing. Realizing the value of looking stylish and its appeal, Vaughan transformed herself into a vision in haute couture.
Disillusioned with having to record popular numbers, Vaughan obtained a unique deal for Mercury-EmArcy, where she recorded popular music for Mercury and jazz for EmArcy, allowing her to straddle both camps.
Always captured best in live recordings - such as the 1963 recording Sassy In Tivoli recorded over four days of live appearances in Denmark with her quartet, Vaughan's performance in Japan on Live in Japan was captured. In this, one can truly understand the purity, quality, and range of Vaughan's dynamic and dramatic delivery as she undertakes songs including Summertime, Misty, Over The Rainbow, and many more. Vaughan won critical acclaim during the 1940s and 1950s, toured extensively, and became established as a leading female jazz performer. She worked with jazz's best, including Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Errol Gardner, and many more. By the 1970s, she was working with orchestras - something she always wanted to do. Her career had highs and lows, and it was in the 1970s, Vaughan's star, always on a slow ascent, shone suddenly at its brightest. She recorded Send In The Clowns, which was sent to her by producer Bob Shad, and it became her signature song.
Sarah Vaughan used her voice as an instrument and was one of the first singers to use bop phrasing. She had the talent, range, and dexterity to do this with strong, fluid delivery, which only a naturally gifted musician can do. Concentrating more on harmonics and working with other instrumentalists in the ensembles, she focused less on words than the musical delivery - and it is this which makes Sarah Vaughan unique.
Live in Japan's original sleeve notes from jazz critic Nat Hentoff include the words, " There is Sarah's striking sense of design. The basic framework of each song is carefully structured and personalized, and that makes her frequently stunning improvisations ... all the more absorbing. ... Hers is so resonant and rich a sound you feel you can almost touch it ... in sum, a nonpareil illustration of a master singer at the peak of her expressive energies." It is true when you listen to the music, with some of the songs extended to over six minutes, and Vaughan's capability of carrying the audience, even when she forgets the lyrics.
For decades, Sarah Vaughan performed worldwide, touring extensively and bringing her talents to Europe, winning new fans and delighting those who had followed her career since the 1950s.
Ella Fitzgerald called Sarah Vaughan, 'The World's Greatest Singing Talent' so it is perhaps fitting that Vaughan's final studio recording should be for the Quincy Jones Album Back on The Block (Qwest/Warner 1989), where she featured in a brief scat duet with Fitzgerald, the singer she had opened for at The Apollo early in her career so many years before.
During her career, Sarah Vaughan received three Grammy Awards, an Emmy, was inducted onto Hollywood's Walk of Fame and The National Endowment for the Arts honored Sarah Vaughan with its highest honor in jazz, the NEA Jazz Masters Award in 1989. She received many other accolades.
Vaughan believed one of the keys to singing was to put soul into it. She sought spiritual understanding and never forgot her childhood singing with the church choir - which she returned to from time to time throughout her career. She is remembered as one of the key jazz vocalists, delivering soulful, powerful vocal lines which concentrated on delivery. Sarah Vaughan has proved inspirational to many who followed. She was human and had her troubles, addictions, and personal difficulties, but her dedication to the vocal instrument remained. As she matured from an awkward teenager into a devastatingly beautiful woman and supremely accomplished performer, she influenced other jazz singers and developed her unique style. As a jazz singer with a foot in the world of popular music, she remains a singer many modern vocalists respect.
Live in Japan is Sarah Vaughan in full flow, engaging and sumptuous. Japan always held a place for her, and she returned to play there in 1989, near the last days of her career.
6. "The Blues" - 7:32