Monday, August 3, 2009

August 3: Sarah Vaughan, "Sarah Vaughan With Clifford Brown"

Artist: Sarah Vaughan
Album: Sarah Vaughan With Clifford Brown
Year: 1954
Label: Verve

Amongst the great jazz singers in history, each had their own area where they excelled far beyond their peers. While Ella was the Queen of scat, Nina brought overwhelming soul, and Billie brought authenticity, when it came to perfection in tone and vibrato, few even come close to the amazing talent of Sarah Vaughan. A massive influence on nearly every singer who followed, Vaughan's seemingly limitless vocal range and unmatched style and talent remain largely unmatched to this day. Recording more than fifty albums over her career, Sarah Vaughan has had sessions with the greatest musicians in history, from Dizzy Gillespie to Charlie Parker to Miles Davis. Among these sessions was a pair of studio dates in December of 1954 with the band formed by trumpet master, Clifford Brown. The results of these sessions was released soon after, as the sensational 1954 album, Sarah Vaughan With Clifford Brown.

Originally, the album was simply titled Sarah Vaughan, however, the album was re-issued with the new title, due to the popularity of trumpeter Clifford Brown. In 2005, the album saw another re-release, this time including an additional seven tracks from the session that had not been previously released. Much of the albums' greatness can be attributed to legendary producer, Bob Shad. Though he would go on to work with everyone from Janis Joplin to Ted Nugent, his early work within the jazz and bop scene remains some of his finest. It is Shad's relationship with Billy Eckstine that brought him to Sarah Vaughan, as Eckstine's band backed Vaughan for years before this recording date. Another key contributor to the albums' sound is composer, arranger, and saxophonist, Ernie Wilkins. Though he is most widely known for his work with Count Basie, Wilkins conducts the band on Sarah Vaughan With Clifford Brown, where he finds himself surrounded by some of the most accomplished and talented musicians that have ever lived. It is very much this combination of exceptional technical aptitude, combined with the unparalleled musicianship that makes Sarah Vaughan With Clifford Brown such an extraordinary record.

The backing band that Wilkins and Clifford Brown have assembled for the session is nothing short of sensational. Handling piano duties is fellow legend, Jimmy Jones. Jones, who often took over piano duties for Duke Ellington when Ellington's band backed Ella Fitzgerald, plays brilliantly on this album, and his presence is one of the major factors in the albums' fantastic sound. Drummer Roy Haynes also played with nearly every "great" of the jazz scene, and his influence on both jazz and rock drumming is still felt to this day. While it may not be as noticeable on Sarah Vaughan With Clifford Brown, Haynes' playing has had a major impact on some of the biggest names since, and recently, he has sat in with artists ranging from The Rolling Stones to The Allman Brothers Band, as well as an appearance with Page McConnell and Jon Fishman from Phish. Making his first noted appearance on a recording session, flutist Herbie Mann, whose impact on world music is immeasurable, is dazzling on his solos found throughout the album. Paul Quinichette, known as "Vice Prez" due to his sound being so similar to Lester Young, spent time with Billie Holiday and Count Basie before finding his way to Brown's all-star band. Rounding out the band is, of course, their leader, trumpet legend, Clifford Brown. Though he would go on to stand as one of the most influential trumpet players in history, it is on this album that he truly steps to the next level. His solos and passages throughout are simply beautiful, and it is often as if he is almost dueting with Vaughan's sensational singing.

By far one of the most beautiful voices to ever record, Vaughan's limitless vocal range and distinctive style push her among the greatest singers in history. Throughout Sarah Vaughan With Clifford Brown, her unmatched talent in vibrato is on display. Able to keep the note perfect, while making her voice pushing the tone ever so slightly, making it almost shake, there have truly been few since Vaughan who so perfectly display the singing method. Along with her brilliant use of vibrato, the vocal range of Sarah Vaughan is limitless. From the deep, almost gruff lower octaves, to shimmering displays that top her vocal range, Vaughan is nothing short of stunning on every song. Bringing all the emotion and soul that one could want, she makes each song, most of which are jazz standards, her own, presenting them in ways which had never before been explored. Vaughan gives one of her most amazing performances of her career, as she plays perfectly with the rhythm section, almost dancing with the drums and piano, on the Gershwin classic, "Embraceable You." Having been recorded by everyone from Frank Sinatra to Lou Reed, Sarah Vaughan's version of "September Song" that is found on this album remains the quintessential version, as her deep, soulful rendition is simply phenomenal. There is not a dull moment anywhere on Sarah Vaughan With Clifford Brown, and Vaughan's vocals are sensational on every song, making the album a true gem of the jazz era.

In an era when, due to technology, anyone can sound like they know how to sing, one must dig deeper before considering someone a "quality" singer. Though technology may be able to adjust tone and octave, nothing can artificially create soul, style, and skill. Overflowing with all three, as well as possessing one of the most wide ranging, naturally beautiful voices in history, Sarah Vaughan stands tall amongst the giants of music history. Vaughan uses vibrato singing like no other, and her vocal talents throughout her entire recorded catalog are nothing short of awe-inspiring. Though she sang with many of the most famous musicians in history, her 1954 recording session with the Clifford Brown led band featured many of the most influential players of the jazz scene. From pianist Jimmy Jones to drummer Roy Haynes, each band member is extraordinary in their own right; creating a group sound that is only equaled by Vaughan's spectacular voice. Representing the epitome of the jazz-singer era, Sarah Vaughan's 1954 release, Sarah Vaughan With Clifford Brown perfectly combines top notch musicianship with one the unparalleled voice of Vaughan, and is truly one of the greatest albums one could ever experience.

Standout tracks: "Lullaby Of Birdland," "April In Paris," and "Embraceable You."

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