Take Five: A Divine Trove of Sarah Vaughan, Curated by Our Announcers

Jul 3, 2017

Sarah Vaughan means something special to WBGO. And it's not that she was born and raised in Newark — though that certainly doesn't hurt. Simply put, her magnificent voice has been a beacon on our air, and a steadfast point of agreement. This week sees the publication of a new biography of Vaughan, and we're taking the opportunity to showcase five favorite performances from across her career.

“The Face I Love,” 1977

I probably have played more Sarah Vaughan songs than any of the others on Singers Unlimited.  I was on a WBGO trip to Rio de Janeiro in 1988 and came across an LP of Sarah’s I Love Brazil! album — with extra tracks featuring Antonio Carlos Jobim himself. That’s always been my favorite of Sarah’s albums, and what I’ve played most often is “The Face I Love.”

— Michael Bourne, host, Singers Unlimited and Blues Break

“Be My Love,” 1963

Sarah Vaughan’s unusually expansive range, flawless intonation and instrument-like fluidity have in many ways set the standard for jazz vocalists. In 1963 she recorded the Roulette studio session Sarah Slightly Classical, arranged and conducted by Marty Manning. With operatic precision, the Divine One takes on songs by Tchaikovsky, Debussy and Chopin, among others. A highlight is the Nicholas Brodszky/Sammy Cahn ballad “Be My Love,” originally written in 1950 for Mario Lanza in the musical film The Toast Of New Orleans, also starring Kathryn Grayson. Sassy’s lush and emotive vocal coloring and pristine vibrato caress every single note to thrilling effect.

—    Monifa Brown, host, Saturday Afternoon Jazz

“You Are Too Beautiful,” 1982

Rodgers and Hart’s “You Are Too Beautiful” has long been one of the most sexy and seductive ballads, and a personal favorite. I fell in love with the John Coltrane/Johnny Hartman version; how romantic and chivalrous. Then I heard Sarah Vaughan’s rendition. She changed the entire meaning of the song for me with that one line: “You are too beautiful for one man alone, for one lucky fool to be with.” With that deep, rich contralto declaring self-love, the song became an empowering and very therapeutic anthem for the younger me, who didn’t believe that I was too beautiful for anyone. It is currently in my repertoire, but it requires an incredible amount of strength and composure to get through it without tears. Thank you, Sarah!

—    Lezlie Harrison, announcer

“Shulie A Bop,” 1957

One doesn’t immediately think of Sassy the scatter. That lane was more for Ella Fitzgerald, the singer Vaughan seems to be unfairly measured up to. But that’s why “Shulie A Bop” is so impressive, because Sarah, in her own way, was also a deftly skilled scat-singing improviser, though she chose not to showcase it as often. And one cannot help but smile when she shouts out and gives deference to one of the best jazz drummers of all time, Roy Haynes, which also magnifies her rhythmic ingenuity.

—    Simon Rentner, host and producer, The Checkout

“Dreamsville,” 1965

“Dreamsville” was originally sung in cool fashion by Lola Albright, who played Peter Gunn's nightclub-singer-girlfriend Edie Hart in the eponymous television series, and it's a surprise that the song suited the deeper, warmer voice of Sarah Vaughan. But it does, as does everything on Sarah Vaughan Sings the Mancini Songbook, especially with arrangements by the likes of Frank Foster and Bill Holman. As Mancini himself put it: “Having Sarah sing your songs ensures they will be around for a while.”

—    Brian Delp, host, Jazz After Hours