Sunday, October 25, 2009

Long lost Sarah Vaughan

The first time I ever heard Sarah Vaughan was at the end of "Master Harold and the Boys," a play by the South African playwright Athol Fugard. It was a filmed version of the play with Matthew Broderick, Zakes Mokae, and John Kani in 1985. It was a superb production (with the exception of Broderick's poor excuse for a South African accent) and it ends with the two black South Africans dancing as the credits roll. The voice of perfection I heard singing as they danced was completely transformative. It opened up a entirely new musical landscape for me. As a young kid in the 70's and 80's, any kind of music popular before 1960 was completely unknown, and, presumably, uninteresting, since that was what my parents listened to.

I asked my mother who the singer was and she said she was pretty sure it was Sarah Vaughan. I immediately began to listen to everything I could find by her. There were no credits noting what the song was, so I found the play in a library and checked the end. The play only says that, "Sarah Vaughan sings as Sam and Willie dance."

After going through fifty or so albums and looking all over the web, I found what I was looking for just a few months ago. That song that started my infatuation with Sarah Vaughan was on Count Basie/Sarah Vaughan. It is, "Little Man You've Had a Busy Day." It was recorded in the early sixties when Sassy was at the height of her powers. She had honed her delivery over the previous two decades, and time (and her continuous smoking) had not diminished her vocal instrument at all. She never really lost her voice or much of her range, but it did deepen quite a bit in her later years and her notes stayed out of the stratosphere.

But anything before 1970 (which includes hundreds and hundreds of songs over three decades) by Sassy will be exquisite. I know ella Fitzgerald is known as the clearest voice ever, but for me, I place Sassy just a bit higher in the jazz all-stars. When I hear her sing, I think that must be what they mean when they speak of Heaven.


Alicia Michele Benjamin said...

NOBODY sings "Send in the Clowns" like Sarah Vaughan -- nobody! It's like Stephen Sondheim wrote that song for her.

PatricktheRogue said...

Alicia, I don't know if you remember, but I asked you about what this song might be several years ago, and you gave me few susggestions back then. Well, I finally figured it out. And yes, there is/was no one like Sassy, period.