Tuesday, December 4, 2007
Sarah Lois Vaughan (nicknamed "Sassy" and "The Divine One") (March 27, 1924, Newark, New Jersey – April 3, 1990, Los Angeles, California) was an American jazz singer, described as one of the greatest singers of the 20th century .
Vaughan spent the remainder of 1943 and part of 1944 touring the country with the Earl Hines big band that also featured baritone Billy Eckstine. Vaughan was hired as a pianist, reputedly so Hines could hire her under the jurisdiction of the musicians' union (American Federation of Musicians) rather than the singers union (American Guild of Variety Artists), but after Cliff Smalls joined the band as a trombonist and pianist, Sarah's duties became limited exclusively to singing. This Earl Hines band is best remembered today as an incubator of bebop, as it included trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, saxophonist Charlie Parker(playing tenor saxophone rather than the alto saxophone that he would become famous with later) and trombonist Benny Green. Gillespie also arranged for the band, although a recording ban by the musicians union prevented the band from recording and preserving its sound and style for posterity.
Eckstine left the Hines band in late 1943 and formed his own big band with Gillespie leaving Hines to become the new band's musical director. Parker came along too, and the Eckstine band over the next few years would host a startling cast of jazz talent: Miles Davis, Kenny Dorham, Art Blakey, Lucky Thompson, Gene Ammons, Dexter Gordon, among others.
Vaughan accepted Eckstine's invitation to join his new band in 1944, giving her an opportunity to develop her musicianship with the seminal figures in this era of jazz. Eckstine's band also afforded her first recording opportunity, a December 5, 1944 date that yielded the song "I'll Wait and Pray" for the Deluxe label. That date led to critic and producer Leonard Feather to ask her to cut four sides under her own name later that month for the Continental label, backed by a septet that included Dizzy Gillespie and Georgie Auld.
Band pianist John Malachi is credited with giving Vaughan the moniker "Sassy", a nickname that matched her personality. Vaughan liked it and the name (and its shortened variant "Sass") stuck with colleagues and, eventually, the press. In written communications, Vaughan often spelled it "Sassie".
Vaughan officially left the Eckstine band in late 1944 to pursue a solo career, although she remained very close to Eckstine personally and recorded with him frequently throughout her life.
Early Solo Career: 1945 - 1948
The musicians union ban pushed Musicraft to the brink of bankruptcy and Vaughan used the missed royalty payments as an opportunity to sign with the larger Columbia record label. Following the settling of the legal issues, her chart successes continued with the charting of "Black Coffee" in the Summer of 1949. During her tenure at Columbia through 1953, Vaughan was steered almost exclusively to commercial pop ballads, a number of which had chart success: "That Lucky Old Sun", "Make Believe (You Are Glad When You're Sorry)", "I'm Crazy to Love You", "Our Very Own", "I Love the Guy", "Thinking of You" (with pianist Bud Powell), "I Cried for You", "These Things I Offer You", "Vanity", "I Ran All the Way Home", "Saint or Sinner", "My Tormented Heart", and "Time", among others.
Vaughan also achieved substantial critical acclaim. Vaughan won Esquire magazine's New Star Award for 1947. Vaughan won awards from Down Beat magazine continuously from 1947 through 1952 and from Metronome magazine from 1948 through 1953. A handful of critics disliked her singing as being "over-stylized," reflecting the heated controversies of the time over the new musical trends of the late 40's. However the critical reception to the young singer was generally positive.
Recording and critical success led to numerous performing opportunities, packing clubs around the country almost continuously throughout the years of the late 1940s and early 1950s. In the Summer of 1949, Vaughan made her first appearance with a symphony orchestra in a benefit for the Philadelphia Orchestra entitled "100 Men and a Girl." Around this time, Chicago disk jockey Dave Garroway coined a second nickname for Vaughan, "The Divine One", that would follow her throughout her career. In 1951, Vaughan made her first tour of Europe.
With improving finances, in 1949 Vaughan and Treadwell purchased a three-story house on 21 Avon Avenue in Newark, occupying the top floor during their increasingly rare off-hours at home and relocating Vaughan's parents to the lower two floors. However, the business pressures and personality conflicts lead to a cooling in the personal relationship between Treadwell and Vaughan. Treadwell hired a road manager to handle Vaughan's touring needs and opened a management office in Manhattan so he could work with clients in addition to Vaughan.
Vaughan's relationship with Columbia Records also soured as Vaughan became dissatisfied both with the commercial material she was required to record there and lackluster financial success of her records. A set of small group sides recorded in 1950 with Miles Davis and Benny Green are among the best of her career, but those were isolated moments in her Columbia ouvre. Frank Sinatra would face similar issues at the conclusion of his Columbia contract around the same time. As with Sinatra, Vaughan needed a change of setting that would give her talents the environment to fully blossom.
Stardom and The Columbia Years: 1948 - 1953
In 1953, Treadwell negotiated a unique contract for Vaughan with Mercury Records. Vaughan would record commercial material for the Mercury label and more jazz-oriented material for Mercury's subsidiary EmArcy label. Vaughan was paired with producer Bob Shad and their excellent working relationship resulted in strong commercial and artistic success. Vaughan's first recording session for Mercury was in February of 1954 and she stayed with the label through 1959. After a stint at Roulette Records from 1960 to 1963, Vaughan returned to Mercury for an additional time from 1964 to 1967.
Vaughan's commercial success at Mercury began with "Make Yourself Comfortable", recorded in the Fall of 1954. Other hits followed, including: "How Important Can It Be" (with Count Basie), "Whatever Lola Wants", "The Banana Boat Song", "You Ought to Have A Wife" and "Misty". Vaughan's commercial success peaked in 1959 with "Broken Hearted Melody", a song she considered "corny", that nonetheless became her first gold record and a regular part of her concert repertoire for years to come. Vaughan was reunited with Billy Eckstine for a series of duet recordings in 1957 that yielded the hit "Passing Strangers". Vaughan's commercial recordings were handled by a number of different arrangers and conductors, the primary leaders being Hugo Peretti and Hal Mooney.
The jazz "track" of her recording career also proceeded apace, backed either by her working trio or various assemblages of illustrious jazz figures. One of her favorite albums of her whole career was an album recorded in December of 1954 featuring a sextet that included Clifford Brown. The album In the Land of Hi-Fi was recorded at a pair of October 1955 sessions featuring a 12-piece band that was led by Ernie Wilkins and included J.J. Johnson, Kai Winding, and Cannonball Adderley augmenting Vaughan's working trio. In 1958 Vaughan recorded the album No Count Sarah with members of the Count Basie Orchestra, minus Basie, who was under contract with another record company.
Performances from this era often found Vaughan in the company of a veritable who's who of jazz figures from the mid-1950s during a schedule of almost non-stop touring. Vaughan was featured at the first Newport Jazz Festival in the Summer of 1954 and would star in subsequent editions of that festival at Newport and in New York City for the remainder of her life. In the Fall of 1954, Vaughan performed at Carnegie Hall with the Count Basie Orchestra on a bill that also included Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Lester Young and the Modern Jazz Quartet. That autumn, Vaughan made another brief and highly successful tour of Europe. In early 1955, Vaughan set out on a "Big Show" tour, a grueling succession of start-studded one-nighters that included Count Basie, George Shearing, Errol Garner and Jimmy Rushing. In the 1955 New York Jazz Festival on Randalls Island, Vaughan shared the bill with the Dave Brubeck quartet, Horace Silver, Jimmy Smith, and the Johnny Richards Orchestra
Although the professional relationship between Vaughan and Treadwell was quite successful through the 1950s, their personal relationship finally reached a breaking point at some time in 1958 and Vaughan filed for a divorce. Vaughan had entirely delegated financial matters to Treadwell, and despite stunning figures reported through the 1950s about Vaughan's record sales and performance income, at the settlement Treadwell said that only $16,000 was left. The couple evenly divided that amount and the personal assets and terminated their business relationship.
The Mercury Years: 1954 - 1958
The exit of Treadwell from Vaughan's life was also precipitated by the entry of Clyde "C.B." Atkins, a man of uncertain background that Vaughan met while while on tour in Chicago and married on September 4, 1958. Although Atkins had no experience in artist management or music, Vaughan wished to have a mixed professional/personal relationship like the one she had with Treadwell. Vaughan made Atkins her personal manager, although, she was still feeling the sting of the problems she had with Treadwell and initially kept a slightly closer eye on Atkins. Vaughan and Atkins moved into a house in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.
Vaughan's contract with Mercury Records ended in late 1959 and she immediately signed on with Roulette Records, a small label owned by Morris Levy, one of the backers of the Birdland in New York where Vaughan had frequently appeared. Roulette's roster also included Count Basie, Joe Williams, Dinah Washington, Lambert, Hendricks and Ross and Maynard Ferguson, among others.
Vaughan began recording for Roulette in April 1960, making a string of strong large ensemble albums arranged and/or conducted by Billy May, Jimmy Jones, Joe Reisman, Quincy Jones, Benny Carter, Lalo Schifrin and Gerald Wilson. Surprisingly, Vaughan also had some success in 1960 on the pop charts with "Serenata" on Roulette and a couple of residual tracks from her Mercury contract, "Eternally" and "You're My Baby". Vaughan made a pair of intimate vocal/guitar/double bass albums of jazz standards: After Hours (1961) with guitarist Mundell Lowe and double bassist George Duvivier and Sarah Plus Two (1962) with guitarist Barney Kessell and double bassist Joe Comfort.
Vaughan was incapable of having biological children, so in 1961 Vaughan and Atkins adopted a daughter, Debra Lois. However the relationship with Atkins was difficult and violent and Vaughan filed for divorce in November of 1963 after a series of strange incidents. Vaughan turned to two friends to help sort out the financial wreckage of the marriage: John "Preacher" Wells, a childhood acquaintance and club owner, and Clyde "Pumpkin" Golden, Jr. Wells and Golden found that Atkins' gambling and profligate spending had put Vaughan around $150,000 in debt and the Englewood Cliffs house was ultimately seized by the IRS for nonpayment of taxes. Vaughan retained custody of the adopted child and Golden essentially took Atkins place as Vaughan's manager and lover for the remainder of the decade.
Around the time of her second divorce, she also became disenchanted with Roulette Records. Roulette' finances were even more deceptive and opaque than usual in the record business and its recording artists often had little to show for their efforts other than some excellent records. When her contract with Roulette ended in 1963, Vaughan returned to the more familiar confines of Mercury Records. In the Summer of 1963, Vaughan went to Denmark with producer Quincy Jones to record four days of live performances with her trio that would be released on the album Sassy Swings the Tivoli that is an excellent example of Vaughan's live show from this period. Vaughan made her first appearance at the White House for President Johnson in 1964.
Unfortunately, the Tivoli recording would be the brightest moment of her second stint with Mercury. Changing demographics and tastes in the 1960s left jazz artists with shrinking audiences and inappropriate material. While Vaughan retained a following large and loyal enough to maintain her performing career, the quality and quantity of her recorded output dwindled even as her voice darkened and her skill remained undiminished. At the conclusion of her Mercury deal in 1967 she was left without a recording contract for the remainder of the decade.
In 1969 Vaughan terminated her professional relationship with Golden and relocated to the west coast, settling first into a house near Benedict Canyon in Los Angeles and then into what would end up being her final home in Hidden Hills.
Vaughan met Marshall Fisher after a 1970 performance at a casino in Las Vegas and Fisher soon fell in to the familiar dual role as Vaughan's lover and manager. Fisher was another man of uncertain background with no musical or entertainment business experience. However, unlike some of Vaughan's earlier associates, he was a genuine fan of Vaughan's and was devoted to furthering Vaughan's career.
The seventies also heralded a rebirth in Vaughan's recording activity. In 1971, Bob Shad, who had worked as a producer with Vaughan during her contract with Mercury Records, asked Vaughan to record for his new record label, Mainstream Records. Basie veteran Ernie Wilkins arranged and conducted her first Mainstream album, A Time In My Life in November 1971. In April of 1972, Vaughan recorded a collection of ballads written, arranged and conducted by Michel Legrand. Arrangers Legrand, Peter Matz, Jack Elliott and Allyn Ferguson teamed up for Vaughan's third Mainstream album, Feelin' Good. Vaughan also recorded Live in Japan, a live album in Tokyo with her trio in September of 1973.
During her sessions with Legrand, Bob Shad presented "Send In The Clowns", a Stephen Sondheim song from the Broadway musical A Little Night Music, to Vaughan for consideration. The song would become Vaughan's signature, replacing the chestnut "Tenderly" that had been with her from the beginning of her solo career.
Unfortunately, Vaughan's relationship with Mainstream soured in 1974, allegedly in a conflict precipitated by Fisher over an album cover photograph and/or unpaid royalties . This left Vaughan again without a recording contract for three years.
In December 1974, Vaughan played a private concert for the United States President Gerald Ford and French president Giscard d'Estaing during their summit on Martinique.
Also in 1974, conductor Michael Tilson Thomas asked Vaughan to participate in an all-Gershwin show he was planning for a guest appearance with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl. The arrangements were by Marty Paich and the orchestra would be augmented by established jazz artists Dave Grusin on piano, Ray Brown on double bass, drummer Shelly Manne and saxophonists Bill Perkins and Pete Christlieb. The concert was a success and Thomas and Vaughan repeated the performance with Thomas' home orchestra in Buffalo, New York, followed by appearances in 1975 and 1976 with symphony orchestras around the country. These performances fulfilled a long-held interest by Vaughan in working with symphonies and she made orchestra performances without Thomas for the remainder of the decade.
In 1977, Vaughan terminated her personal and professional relationship with Marshall Fisher. Although Fisher is occasionally referenced as Vaughan's third husband, they were never legally married. Vaughan began a relationship with Waymond Reed, a trumpet player 16 years her junior who was playing with the Count Basie band. Reed joined her working trio as a musical director and trumpet player and became Vaughan's third husband in 1978.
In 1977, Tom Guy, a young filmmaker and public TV producer, followed Vaughan around on tour, interviewing numerous artists speaking about Vaughan and capturing both concert and behind-the-scenes footage. The resulting sixteen hours of footage was pared down into an hour-and-a-half documentary, Listen To The Sun, that aired on September 21, 1978 on New Jersey Public Television, which was never commercially released.
In 1977 Norman Granz, who was also Ella Fitzgerald's manager, signed Vaughan to his Pablo Records label. Vaughan had not had a recording contract for three years, although she recorded a 1977 album of Beatles songs with contemporary pop arrangements for the Atlantic Records label that was eventually released in 1981. Vaughan's first release for Pablo was I Love Brazil, which was recorded with an all-star cast of Brazilian musicians in Rio de Janeiro in the fall of 1977 and led to a Grammy nomination.
The Pablo contract would ultimately result in five albums. In the Spring of 1978, Vaughan recorded How Long Has This Been Going On? with a quartet that included pianist Oscar Peterson, guitarist Joe Pass, double bassist Ray Brown, and drummer Louis Bellson. In the fall of 1979, Vaughan recorded material for two Duke Ellington Songbook albums. In the Spring of 1981, Vaughan recorded the album Send In The Clowns with the Count Basie orchestra playing arrangements primarily by Sammy Nestico and including a second recording of what had become her signature song. Her contract concluded in March of 1982 with Crazy and Mixed Up, another quartet album featuring Sir Roland Hanna on piano, Joe Pass on guitar, Andy Simpkins on double bass and Harold Jones on drums.
Vaughan and Waymond Reed divorced in 1981.
Rebirth in the Seventies
Vaughan remained quite active as a performer during the 1980s and began receiving awards recognizing her contribution to American music and status as an important elder stateswoman of Jazz. In the Summer of 1980, Vaughan received a plaque on 52nd Street outside the CBS building commemorating the jazz clubs she had once frequented on "Swing Street" and which had long since been demolished and replaced with office buildings.
A performance of her symphonic Gershwin program with the New Jersey Symphony in 1980 was broadcast on PBS and won her an Emmy Award in 1981 for "Individual Achievement - Special Class". She was reunited with Michael Tilson Thomas for slightly modified version of the Gershwin program with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the CBS Records recording, Gershwin Live! won Vaughan the Grammy award for Best Jazz Vocal Performance, Female. In 1985 Vaughan received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 1988 Vaughan was inducted into American Jazz Hall of Fame.
After the conclusion of her Pablo contract in 1982, Vaughan did only a limited amount studio recording. Vaughan made a guest appearance in 1984 on Barry Manilow's 2:00 AM Paradise Cafe, an odd album of original pastiche compositions that featured a number of established jazz artists. In 1984 Vaughan participated in one of the more unusual projects of her career, The Planet is Alive, Let It Live a symphonic piece composed by Tito Fontana and Sante Palumbo on Italian translations of Polish poems by Karol Wytola, the future Pope John Paul II. The recording was made in Germany with an English translation by writer Gene Lees and was released by Lees on his own private label after the recording was turned down by the major labels. In 1986, Vaughn sang two songs, "Happy Talk" and "Bali Ha'i", in the role of Bloody Mary on an otherwise stiff studio recording by opera stars Kiri Te Kanawa and Jose Carreras of the score of the Broadway musical South Pacific, while sitting on the studio floor.
Vaughan's final complete album was Brazilian Romance, produced and composed by Sergio Mendes and recorded primarily in the early part of 1987 in New York and Detroit. In 1988, Vaughan contributed vocals to an album of Christmas carols recorded by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir with the Utah Symphony Orchestra and sold in Hallmark Cards stores. In 1989, Quincy Jones' album Back on the Block featured Vaughan in a brief scatting duet with Ella Fitzgerald. This was Vaughan's final studio recording and, fittingly, it was Vaughan's only formal studio recording with Fitzgerald in a career that had begun 46 years earlier opening for Fitzgerald at the Apollo.
Vaughan is featured in a number of video recordings from the 1980s. Sarah Vaughan Live from Monterrey was taped in 1983 or 1984 and featured her working trio with guest soloists. Sass and Brass was taped in 1986 in New Orleans and also features her working trio with guest soloists, including Dizzy Gillespie and Maynard Ferguson. Sarah Vaughan: The Divine One was featured in the American Masters series on PBS.
In 1989, Vaughan's health began to decline, although she rarely betrayed any hints in her performances. Vaughan canceled a series of engagements in Europe in 1989 citing the need to seek treatment for arthritis in the hand, although she was able to complete a later series of performances in Japan. During a run at New York's Blue Note jazz club in 1989, Vaughan received a diagnosis of lung cancer and was too ill to finish the final day of what would turn out to be her final series of public performances.
Vaughan returned to her home in California to begin chemotherapy and spent her final months alternating stays in the hospital and at home. Toward the end, Vaughan tired of the struggle and demanded to be taken home, where she passed away on the evening of April 3, 1990 while watching a television movie featuring her daughter.
Vaughan's funeral was at the First Mount Zion Baptist Church in Newark, which was the same congregation she grew up in but which had relocated to a new building. Following the ceremony, a horse-drawn carriage transported her body to its final resting place in Glendale Cemetery in Bloomfield, New Jersey.
Although Vaughan is usually considered a "Jazz Singer," she avoided classifying herself as such. Indeed, her approach to her "Jazz" work and her commercial "Pop" material was not radically different. Vaughan stuck throughout her career to the jazz-infused style of music that she came of age with, only rarely dabbling in rock-era styles that usually did not suit her unique vocal talents. Vaughan discussed the label in an 1982 interview for Down Beat:
"I don't know why people call me a jazz singer, though I guess people associate me with jazz because I was raised in it, from way back. I'm not putting jazz down, but I'm not a jazz singer. Betty Bebop (Carter) is a jazz singer, because that's all she does. I've even been called a blues singer. I've recorded all kinds of music, but (to them) I'm either a jazz singer or a blues singer. I can't sing a blues - just a right-out blues - but I can put the blues in whatever I sing. I might sing 'Send In the Clowns' and I might stick a little bluesy part in it, or any song. What I want to do, music-wise, is all kinds of music that I like, and I like all kinds of music."
While Vaughan was a proficient at scatting, the improvisatory aspect of her art was focused more on ornamentation, phrasing and variation on melodies, which were almost always jazz standards. Perhaps her most noticeable musical mannerism was the creative use of often widely "swooping" glissandi through her wide entire vocal range, which was most sonorous in a dark chest register that grew deeper as she aged. Vaughan approached her voice more as a melodic instrument than a vehicle for dramatic interpretation of lyrics, although the expressive qualities of her style did accentuate lyrical meaning and she would often find unique and memorable ways of articulating and coloring individual key words in a lyric.
During her childhood in the 30s, Vaughan was strongly attracted to the popular music of the day, much to the consternation of her deeply-religious father. Vaughan was certainly influenced by the gospel traditions that she grew up with in a Baptist church, but the more radically melismatic elements of those influences are less obvious than they would be in later generations of singers in the R&B and hip-hop genres. Vaughan was certainly influenced by (and an influence on) her friend and mentor, Billy Eckstine, which is obvious in the numerous duet recordings they made together. However, since there are no recordings of Vaughan prior to her joining Eckstine in the Earl Hines band (and, unfortunately, no recordings of her with the Hines band) it is difficult to know with any certainty what stylistic nuances she absorbed during the critical first years of her performing career.
Perhaps because of the individuality of her style, she has rarely been overtly imitated by subsequent generations of singers. Unlike other mid-century singers like Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra or, later, Aretha Franklin, there are no prominent singers whose style is an obvious direct reflection of Vaughan's. However, even in death Vaughan retains a loyal following and attracts new fans through her recorded legacy, most of which remains in commercial release.
While Vaughan frequently performed and recorded with large ensembles, her live performances usually featured her accompanied by a piano-led working trio. The membership of this trio changed frequently over the years, although some of her "favorites" stayed with her for extended periods of time and often returned for multiple stints. Even in large-ensemble situations, this trio was often used as the rhythm section to provide continuity. Aside from economy, the trio configuration was flexible and adaptable to differing performing conditions and to Vaughan's improvisatory whims. This minimal instrumentation also provided a minimum of distraction from Vaughan's unique styling and rich vocal timbre.
Style and Influence
Vaughan was married three times: George Treadwell (1946-1958), Clyde Atkins (1958-1961) and Waymond Reed (1978-1981). Being unable to have biological children, Vaughan adopted a baby girl (Debra Lois) in 1961. Debra worked in the 1980s and 1990s as an actress under the name Paris Vaughan.
Sarah Vaughan's personal life was a jumble of paradoxes. She had a mercurial personality and could be extremely difficult to work with (especially in areas outside of music), but numerous fellow musicians recounted their experiences with her to be some of the best of their career. None of her marriages was successful, yet she maintained close long-running friendships with a number of male colleagues in the business and was devoted to her parents and adopted daughter. Despite effusive public acclaim, Vaughan was insecure and suffered from stage fright that was, at times, almost incapacitating Vaughan was also a life-long smoker, which almost certainly contributed to her premature death from lung cancer at the age of 66.
In 2004-2006, New Jersey Transit paid tribute to Miss Vaughan in the design of its new Newark Light Rail stations. Passengers stopping at any station on this line can read the lyrics to one of her signature songs, Send in the Clowns, along the edge of the station platform.
On March 27, 2003, initiated by Susie M. Butler, the cities of San Francisco and Berkeley, California, signed a proclamation making March 27 "Sarah Lois Vaughan Day" in their respective cities.
Posted by juicy juicy at 9:23 AM