Sarah Vaughn was accorded the level of adulation usually reserved for opera divas, her tone and pitch perfect, unparalleled. To fellow musicians, however, she was another instrumentalist, an equal, a 'brother', her voice so adeptly controlled and creative, so subtle and musically knowing, that they and she felt no distance dividing them. Other than Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, it's doubtful, there's been anyone like her.
On a dare, at the age of 15, Vaughn entered a contest at the Apollo, chancing the wrath of her parents should they find out, and it just so happened that none other than Billy Eckstine was accidentally in the audience that night, waiting for a check to be cashed. After packing the house for three nights, Sarah won the contest, the prize ($10), and entered the world of music, to its vast betterment. Any number of broadcasts throughout the DVD bear witness to just what Billy and the Harlem crowds witnessed on those nights, as her art, from that point forward, ever deepened, never sitting still.
Also shown is the schism between the jazz she dearly loved and the pop that earned her a quite sizeable income, the latter as a mode never satisfactory to a singer of her gifts. Thus, she negotiated a unique contract, singing jazz for one label and pop for its subsidiary. Problem solved. As her talents broadened, she was seen as equal in stature to Charlie Parker, Lester Young, and all the iconic instrumentalists jazz has rightly lionized. The respect showered on her was rare indeed and every syllable well earned.
Vaughn married be-bop, jazz, swing, pop, and the tight control of opera in her vocal chords, a connubiality formerly reserved for fingers and strings, wind keys, ivory plankards, and other more concrete manifestations. She took the standards and turned them inside out while respecting the materials completely. This document is as much a tour of her mind and striking personality as her art, a window onto what completes an artist beyond the notes and charts. The intimacy of the collage of recorded intervals is warm and exotic, as lush as a Florida night, as abstract as a Pollock canvas, and as intriguing as the advent of a renaissance. If you want to see what a singer is capable of, willing to pay close attention in order to be rewarded with a cornucopia perhaps never suspected, this is the video for you, Sarah Vaughn the vehicle. If her rendition of Sondheim's "Send in the Clowns" doesn't send a chill up your spine, then, brother, check into a hospital, you're in need of a heart transplant. Before checking in, however, watch the video again: it's also the cure for the ailment.
This DVD is one of four issued in a second wave by Naxos / Euroarts, an agglomerate in an ongoing series, all of which are the zenith of such documentaries. For the remainder of this "set" (they're available separately), see the critiques of John Coltrane (here), Count Basie (here), and Bluesland, a blues history (here).
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2010, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
Website design by David N. Pyles