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Sassy: Sarah Vaughan In The Late 1950s

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MUSIC CLIP - OSCAR PETERSON, “MOONGLOW”

Welcome to Afterglow, I’m your host, Mark Chilla.

The late 1950s was the time when Sarah Vaughan became jazz royalty. “Sassy,” as she was called, had signed to Mercury Records, and her career moved in two different directions simultaneously. On the one hand, she recorded pop standards in her lush, almost operatic voice, bringing new expressive depth to these long-admired songs. On the other hand, she recorded straight-ahead jazz for Mercury’s jazz label EmArcy records, letting loose and proving that she was one of the greatest jazz singers of her generation. On this program, I’ll highlight these years of her career

It’s Sassy: Sarah Vaughan in the late 1950s, coming up next on Afterglow

MUSIC - Sarah Vaughan, They Can’t Take That Away From Me

MUSIC - Sarah Vaughan, I Cried For You

Two songs from the 1957 album Swingin’ Easy for EmArcy Records by Miss Sarah Vaughan. Just now, we heard the Gus Arnheim, Arthur Freed, and Abe Lyman song “I Cried For You,” and before that, a marvelous version of Gershwin’s “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” complete with Sarah singing deliberately off key. That album actually combined two different sessions together, one from 1954 and one from 1957. “I Cried For You” came from ‘57, and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” came from ‘54.

Mark Chilla here on Afterglow. On this show, we’re looking at some of the late 1950s work of the Divine One, Miss Sarah Vaughan.

MUSIC CLIP - Sarah Vaughan, 'S Wonderful

I’ll start back in the year 1954, when Vaughan was signed to a five year deal with Mercury Records, after working her way up through the jazz ranks for about a decade. What resulted was one of the greatest stretches of recordings by any artist in jazz. 

The label pushed Vaughan in two directions. One was to record pop tunes for the main Mercury label—this included both newer pop records, as well as arrangements of older pop standards, like this recording of Gershwin’s “S Wonderful” from late in 1954.

The other direction was pure jazz, which Vaughan recorded for Mercury’s smaller jazz subsidiary label EmArcy Records. In her words, Sarah said, “My contract with Mercury is for pops, and my contract with EmArcy is for me.”

Her first album with EmArcy came from a memorable session in 1954 with trumpeter Clifford Brown, flutist Herbie Mann and arranger Ernie Wilkins. The album was simply title Sarah Vaughan.

Vaughan proves her worth right out of the gate, as she slides across the scale and the barline with staggering confidence.

Here’s a cut off that album now: this is Sarah Vaughan with Gene DePaul and Don Raye’s tune “He’s My Guy,” on Afterglow.

MUSIC - Sarah Vaughan, He’s My Guy

Sarah Vaughan off of her self-titled debut for EmArcy Records in 1954 with “He’s My Guy,” featuring Clifford Brown on trumpet, Herbie Mann on flute, Paul Quinichette on saxophone and Jimmy Jones on piano.

Sarah Vaughan’s follow up to this record was also a jazz-forward recording for the EmArcy label. Her typical rhythm section of Jimmy Jones, Joe Benjamin on bass and Roy Haynes on drums was featured, alongside arrangements again by Ernie Wilkins. This time, however, Wilkins created a big band sound, featuring saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, and a couple of other all-stars like J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding.

The album was called Sarah Vaughan In The Land of Hi Fi, released in 1955. Vaughan was just one of several singers for Mercury who released albums with this title, including Dinah Washington In The Land of Hi Fi and Patti Page In The Land of Hi Fi.

Here’s a track from that album now, this is “Sometimes I’m Happy,” on Afterglow.

MUSIC - Sarah Vaughan, Sometimes I’m Happy

“Sometimes I’m Happy,” a song by Vincent Youmans, Irving Caesar and Clifford Grey, off of the 1955 album for EmArcy records called Sarah Vaughan In The Land of Hi Fi. Ernie Wilkins was the arranger and Cannonball Adderley was the alto saxophonist in that recording… Adderley actually recorded his own “In the Land of Hi Fi” album for EmArcy not long after.

Sarah Vaughan’s other big collaborator during the late 1950s was arranger Hal Mooney. Mooney was the brains behind several of Vaughan’s albums, adding his lush string arrangements to many of her pop records. Their 1956 album was called Sassy, which had been Sarah Vaughan’s informal nickname since about 1944, capturing her stylish and defiant attitude. 

Although Sassy was released on the EmArcy label, it was essentially a pop standard album, and her later work in this vein would be released on the main Mercury label.

I’ll play a song from that album now. This is Sarah Vaughan with the standard “Shake Down The Stars,” on Afterglow.

MUSIC - Sarah Vaughan, Shake Down The Stars

Sarah Vaughan with Hal Mooney’s orchestra in 1956 and “Shake Down The Stars,” a song by Jimmy Van Heusen and Eddie De Lange. That comes from their album Sassy for the EmArcy Records.

Her next album for EmArcy records called Swingin’ Easy was a little jazzier. The album took some sessions Vaughan recorded in 1954 with pianist John Malachi and combined them with newer sessions she recorded in 1957 with her new pianist Jimmy Jones. 

I’ll play a song from that original 1954 session, featuring John Malachi, bassist Joe Benjamin, and drummer Roy Haynes. This song was co-written by Vaughan herself and her husband/manager at the time, George Treadwell. It grew out of Vaughan’s exciting, improvisatory live performances as a scat showcase and a musical way to introduce her band.

This is Sarah Vaughan and her trio in 1954 with the original song “Shulie A Bop,” on Afterglow.

MUSIC - Sarah Vaughan, Shulie A Bop

“Shulie A Bop,” a Sarah Vaughan original featured on her 1957 album Swingin Easy for EmArcy Records.

Not long after Swingin’ Easy came the record Sarah Vaughan and Billy Eckstine Sing The Songs of Irving Berlin. Eckstine and Vaughan had a long history together. Eckstine helped discover her back in the early 1940s at the Apollo theatre, and she sang with his band in the mid 1940s, alongside bop pioneers like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.

Their 1957 record together was pretty far from bebop. It’s a pop standard record arranged with strings by Hal Mooney, and released on the Mercury pop record label. Here, Sassy’s rich voice is matched well by the baritone of Mr. B.

Here are the two of them together with the Irving Berlin song “Cheek To Cheek,” on Afterglow

MUSIC - Sarah Vaughan, Cheek To Cheek

Sarah Vaughan and Billy Eckstine from their 1957 all Irving Berlin album for Mercury Records. That was Berlin’s tune “Cheek To Cheek.”

Sarah Vaughan continued to perform live throughout the late 1950s, performing, among other places, at the Newport Jazz Festival, Carnegie Hall, and on tour with folks like Count Basie. In her live sets, she was beginning to expand her expressive range to something almost operatic. But at the same time, having grown up in the world of bebop, she could scat and swing as good as anyone, including her main musical rival Ella Fitzgerald.

In 1957, she performed a live set at Mr. Kelly’s in Chicago that was recorded and released on EmArcy Records. I’ll play a tune from that live recording now, that has Vaughan channeling Fitzgerald and performing one of Ella’s signature scat tunes (and even mirroring Ella’s tendency to forget the words.)

Here’s Sarah Vaughan live with “How High The Moon,” on Afterglow.

MUSIC - Sarah Vaughan, How High The Moon

Sarah Vaughan live at Mr. Kelly’s in Chicago in 1957 with the bebop standard “How High The Moon.”

MUSIC CLIP - Chet Baker, How High The Moon

We’ll hear more from Sarah Vaughan’s late 1950s work in just a bit, stay with us.

I’m Mark Chilla, and you’re listening to Afterglow

MUSIC CLIP - Oscar Peterson, Our Love Is Here To Stay

Welcome back to Afterglow, I’m Mark Chilla. I’ve been exploring Sarah Vaughan in the late 1950s this hour.

During this time, she was signed to the pop record label Mercury, who wanted to utilize her rich, expressive voice to sell pop singles. Vaughan wanted to make jazz, which she did on Mercury’s jazz subsidiary label EmArcy during this time. But it was Mercury songs like “Broken Hearted Melody” that actually made the label money…

MUSIC CLIP - Sarah Vaughan, Broken-Hearted Melody

That song from Brill Building songwriters Sherman Edwards and Hal David was a hit for Vaughan in 1959, but not exactly her cup of tea. Vaughan once said, quote “I hated ‘Broken-Hearted Melody,” but it was the biggest thing I ever had.”

Not all of Vaughan’s pop singles were musical duds, though. In 1955, shortly after she joined the Mercury label, she recorded one of the songs from the brand new musical Damn Yankees, and made it into a sassy, seductive hit. I’ll play that song now.

This is Sarah Vaughan in 1955 with “Whatever Lola Wants,” on Afterglow.

MUSIC - Sarah Vaughan, Whatever Lola Wants

One of Sarah Vaughan’s pop singles from the late 1950s. That was “Whatever Lola Wants,” from the 1955 Jerry Ross and Richard Adler musical Damn Yankees.

Sarah Vaughan work for the more pop-oriented Mercury label during this time also included her elegant interpretation of pop standards. This was no more evident on her masterpiece of the style, the 1958 album Sarah Vaughan Sings Broadway: Great Songs from Hit Shows. It was a double album of over 30 songs, ranging from the 1910s to the 1950s, all arranged and conducted again by Hal Mooney.

One of her finest performances was from the earliest song in the bunch, the 1916 song “Poor Butterfly” from the Raymond Hubbell and John Golden musical The Big Show. The song, inspired by Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly, became an unexpected hit for the vocal group The Hilltoppers in 1954. But Vaughan channels the operatic sounds of its inspiration, and turns it into something sublime.

Here’s Sarah Vaughan in 1956 with “Poor Butterfly,” on Afterglow.

MUSIC - Sarah Vaughan, Poor Butterfly

MUSIC - Sarah Vaughan, How Long Has This Been Going On

George and Ira Gershwin’s “How Long Has This Been Going On.” That comes from Sarah Vaughan’s double album of all Gershwin songs. Before that, we heard a signature tune of Sarah Vaughan’s, something that she performed throughout her entire career, the 1916 song “Poor Butterfly.” That comes from her album of all Broadway hit songs. Both of those albums were released in 1958, and both arranged by Hal Mooney.

Sarah Vaughan’s follow-up album to these was an album she recorded for EmArcy Records with Count Basie’s Orchestra. Except, for contractual reasons (Basie was signed to Roulette, Vaughan to Mercury Records) the Count wasn’t actually present on the recording, just his band. So naturally, the album was called No Count Sarah.

I’ll play one song from the album that shows off Sarah’s super silky, super smooth jazz vocals. This is Sarah Vaughan with a classic rendition of “Stardust,” on Afterglow.

MUSIC - Sarah Vaughan, Stardust

Sarah Vaughan and members of the Count Basie Orchestra performing Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust,” from the 1959 EmArcy record No Count Sarah.

Sarah Vaughan kept recording live throughout the late 1950s. Her follow-up live album to her famous set at Mr. Kelly’s in Chicago was a more laid-back jam session album titled After Hours at the London House

The album has a much looser vibe to it, as you might guess from an after hours show. And it’s not to be confused with a similarly titled studio album of Vaughan’s from 1961 simply called “After Hours.”

Here’s the opening number from that set. This is Vaughan with Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke’s “Like Someone In Love,” on Afterglow

MUSIC - Sarah Vaughan, Like Someone In Love

Sarah Vaughan and saxophonist Frank Wess live at the London House in Chicago with the standard “Like Someone In Love.” That was recorded in March of 1958.

Not long after this recording Vaughan was invited to go to Europe as part of a delegation of jazz musicians representing America at the World’s Fair in Brussels. The concert included Ella Fitzgerald and Gerry Mulligan, and Vaughan decided to extend her trip overseas. She performed in London and Stockholm, and later stopped in Paris for a recording session. When she and her band arrived, all of their bags had gone missing. But she still managed to turn out one of her finest recordings with arranger Quincy Jones, on a fairly new song that she would make all her own.

Here is Sarah Vaughan in July 1958 with the Erroll Garner and Johnny Burke song “Misty,” on Afterglow.

MUSIC - Sarah Vaughan, Misty

One of Sarah Vaughan’s signature tunes, that was “Misty” arranged by Quincy Jones. That song was featured on the 1959 album Vaughan and Violins, one of her last albums in the 1950s and one of her last recordings for Mercury Records.

And thanks for tuning in to this Sarah Vaughan edition of Afterglow.

MUSIC CLIP - Errol Garner, Misty

Afterglow is part of the educational mission of Indiana University and produced by WFIU Public Radio in beautiful Bloomington, Indiana. The executive producer is John Bailey.

Playlists for this and other Afterglow programs are available on our website. That’s at indianapublicmedia.org/afterglow.

I’m Mark Chilla, and join me next week for our mix of Vocal Jazz and popular song from the Great American Songbook, here on Afterglow.

sarah vaugh on an album cover

Sarah Vaughan’s 1957 “Swingin’ Easy” for EmArcy Records features jazz recordings from both 1957 and 1954.

The late 1950s was the time when Sarah Vaughan became jazz royalty. “Sassy,” as she was called, had signed to Mercury Records, and her career moved in two different directions simultaneously. On the one hand, she recorded pop standards in her lush, almost operatic voice, bringing new expressive depth to these long-admired songs. On the other hand, she recorded straight-ahead jazz for Mercury’s jazz label EmArcy Records, letting loose and proving that she was one of the greatest jazz singers of her generation. On this program, I’ll highlight these years of her career.


Mercury and EmArcy

When Sarah Vaughan was signed to Mercury Records in 1954, the label pushed her in two different directions. One was to record pop tunes for the main Mercury label—this included both newer pop records, as well as arrangements of older pop standards. The other direction was pure jazz, which Vaughan recorded for Mercury’s smaller jazz subsidiary label EmArcy Records. In her words, Sarah said, “My contract with Mercury is for pops, and my contract with EmArcy is for me.”

Her first album with EmArcy came from a memorable session in 1954 with trumpeter Clifford Brown, flutist Herbie Mann and arranger Ernie Wilkins. The album was simply title Sarah Vaughan. Vaughan proves her worth to the label right out of the gate, as she slides across the scale and the barline with staggering confidence, turning in memorable performances of songs like “Embraceable You” and “Lullaby of Birdland.”

Sarah Vaughan’s follow up to this record was also a jazz-forward recording for the EmArcy label. Her typical rhythm section of Jimmy Jones, Joe Benjamin on bass and Roy Haynes on drums was featured, alongside arrangements again by Ernie Wilkins. This time, however, Wilkins created a big band sound, featuring saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, and a couple of other all-stars like J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding.

The album was called Sarah Vaughan In The Land of Hi Fi, released in 1955, and featured swinging versions of jazz standards like “Cherokee” and “Over The Rainbow.” Vaughan was just one of several singers for Mercury who released albums with this title, including albums by Dinah Washington and Patti Page.

Her next album for EmArcy records called Swingin’ Easy was a little jazzier. The album took some sessions Vaughan recorded in 1954 with pianist John Malachi and combined them with newer sessions she recorded in 1957 with her new pianist Jimmy Jones. These 1954 sessions were among her best, including her memorable performance of “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” and her original scat song “Shulie A Bop.”

Hal Mooney

Sarah Vaughan’s other big collaborator during the late 1950s was arranger Hal Mooney. Mooney was the brains behind several of Vaughan’s albums, adding his lush string arrangements to many of her pop records. Their 1956 album was called Sassy, which had been Sarah Vaughan’s informal nickname since about 1944, capturing her stylish and defiant attitude.

Although Sassy was released on the EmArcy label, it was essentially a pop standard album, with songs like “Shake Down The Stars.” Her later work in this vein would be released on the main Mercury label.

A later record for the Mercury label was Sarah Vaughan and Billy Eckstine Sing The Songs of Irving Berlin. Eckstine and Vaughan had a long history together. Eckstine helped discover her back in the early 1940s at the Apollo theatre, and she sang with his band in the mid 1940s, alongside bop pioneers like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.

Their 1957 record together was pretty far from bebop. It’s a pop standard record—with Irving Berlin songs like “Easter Parade” and “Cheek To Cheek”—arranged with strings by Hal Mooney, and released on the Mercury pop record label. Here, Sassy’s rich voice is matched well by the baritone of Mr. B.

Sarah Vaughan’s solo work on the pop-oriented Mercury label featured elegant interpretation of pop standards. This was no more evident on her masterpiece of the style, the 1958 album Sarah Vaughan Sings Broadway: Great Songs from Hit Shows. It was a double album of over 30 songs, ranging from the 1910s to the 1950s, all arranged and conducted again by Hal Mooney.

One of her finest performances was from the earliest song in the bunch, the 1916 song “Poor Butterfly” from the Raymond Hubbell and John Golden musical The Big Show. The song, inspired by Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly, became an unexpected hit for the vocal group The Hilltoppers in 1954. But Vaughan channels the operatic sounds of its inspiration, and turns it into something sublime. She performed “Poor Butterfly” several times over the course of her career.

Sarah Vaughan Live

Sarah Vaughan continued to perform live throughout the late 1950s, performing, among other places, at the Newport Jazz Festival, Carnegie Hall, and on tour with folks like Count Basie. In her live sets, she was beginning to expand her expressive range to create the operatic sound that she became known for in her later years. But at the same time, having grown up in the world of bebop, she could scat and swing as good as anyone, including her main musical rival Ella Fitzgerald.

In 1957, she performed a live set at Mr. Kelly’s in Chicago that was recorded and released on EmArcy Records. The set includes a marvelous performance of one of Ella Fitzgerald’s signature tunes “How High The Moon” (and Vaughan even mirrors Ella’s tendency to forget the words live on stage.)

Sarah Vaughan kept recording live throughout the late 1950s. Her follow-up live album to her famous set at Mr. Kelly’s in Chicago was a more laid-back jam session album titled After Hours at the London House. The album has a much looser vibe to it, as you might guess from an after hours show. And it’s not to be confused with a similarly titled studio album of Vaughan’s from 1961 simply called After Hours.

Not long after this recording Vaughan was invited to go to Europe as part of a delegation of jazz musicians representing America at the World’s Fair in Brussels. The concert included Ella Fitzgerald and Gerry Mulligan, and Vaughan decided to extend her trip overseas. She performed in London and Stockholm, and later stopped in Paris for a recording session. When she and her band arrived, all of their bags had gone missing. But she still managed to turn out one of her finest recording sessions with arranger Quincy Jones.

That recording session produced another one of Vaughan’s signature tunes, the recent Erroll Garner and Johnny Burke song “Misty.” She would make “Misty” a part of her sets for years.

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