March 27, 2010

Happy Birthday, Sarah Vaughan!

Viva! VaughanSarah Vaughan’s long and storied career was larded with highlights, so it is nearly impossible to choose any short “best of” list. One of her most enjoyable albums for my money was Viva! Vaughan, recorded in 1964. This is a collection of tunes set to bossa nova and other Latin rhythms. Produced by Quincy Jones for Mercury Records, and arranged and conducted by Frank Foster (a veteran of the Count Basie Orchestra), the LP is big band jazz at its best, with five Latin percussionists setting the undulating beat. Although it appeared at the height of the bossa nova craze, the album didn’t sell.
     The song list is a mix of standards such as “Fascinating Rhythm” and “Tea for Two” along with bossa nova favorites like “Jive Samba” and (a gender-altered) “The Boy From Ipanema.” One of my favorites is an Afro-Cuban flavored “Fever.” Vaughan is both sultry and playful in her vocal, responding on the fly to what the band is playing. She actually messes up the lyrics. She sings “Chicks were meant to give you fever/Be it Fahrenheit or Centigrade/They give me fever” but she meant to sing “give you fever” in the last phrase. In an attempt to recover, she then sings “when they kiss them” – a complete mangling of pronouns. But the song swings so well that all cross-purpose fevers and kissing are forgiven.
     “[Vaughan] had many voices,” stated arranger Foster. “She had a serious voice, she had a voice that approached operatic proportions, she had a top-drawer pop-singer voice, she had a jazz singer’s voice, and she had a little puckish, mischievous style she’d go into.” All of these voices are on display in “Quiet Nights (Corcovado),” the bossa nova classic. Her first pass through the song is playful, almost mocking of the whole sentiment of love, as she uses her voice to exaggerate the love-skeptical heroine. After the orchestral bridge, Vaughan takes it seriously with a gorgeous repeat of the song, ending with a contented sigh.
     You will, too, if you listen to this wonderful album.

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