This is a part of a series of rare rescued recordings made for various radio purposes from decades long past—earlier, I covered the Miles Davis dates (here), now comes a potpourri with a special attraction. Sarah Vaughn never recorded studio sides with Woody Herman, so, except for this CD's sudden debut, we'd never have gotten, and mostly never would have known of, this meeting of the giants for posterity. For the occasion, Herman was running through the paces with a new band, one that would be well remembered, and the general mood was fairly laid back and semi-Impressionistic, more Nelson Riddle-ish than, say, Artie Shaw-esque. The difference was important, forming a matrix for Vaughn to glide in with her trademark smooth-as-silk style, scintillating from the git-go with Day In, Day Out and some jumping piano work from Nat Pierce, the band's arranger.
The flavor of the period is well preserved, including between-song banter—highly scripted and pretty wooden but a perfect mirror for the day and intent: propaganda for National Guard service mentioned in the disc's title. Thus the listener gets added perspective above and beyond some great big band sounds. Herman was more the George Shearing type rather than Oscar Peterson oriented, so this isn't the swing on we might expect save that it edges in via the elegant ballroom crowd, more genteel—champagne, not beer and chips.
Vaughn's talent is probably best displayed on the Gershwins' But Not For Me, where the chestnut's score bounces against her subtle variations…never overtly, always underplayed with a sense of refinement reflecting intelligence and craft, a way of repaying the composers, who loved jazz, back for their gifts. When Sarah sings the lines, she slides just underneath a straight take, then floats above it before slowing the tempo down almost imperceptibly but just enough to make the listener smile at the quiet audacity. One take of the recurring refrain, "They're writing songs of love but not for me", steps down the gradients as an entire change-up in itself before entering the next transformation. The famed singer's gift was never one of grandstanding but rather her way of showing what was possible within a standard once the brain was engaged. That she could do it so brilliantly without vocal theatrics or stunts, instead plumbing sublime inner mathematics and emotions, was what enthralled her fans, audients with sophistications absent in many modern listeners.
In fact, her work is so resplendent that the band frankly pales in comparison, even with great charts on cuts like Don't Get Around Much Anymore. Sarah's just too damn good to be rivaled even by her own accompaniment. Announcer Martin Block captures the reason perfectly as he recalls a quote from an interview with Vaughn, in which, in response to a question on her ability to interpret so richly, she wittily responds that "There aren't any tired songs, just tired singers". Precisely. And that sort of penetrant vivacity was what made her The Divine Sarah.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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