Sarah Vaughan, or “Sassy” as she was known, is one of the great singers of the last century. She got an early start as both a piano player and singer, and was discovered in a talent show at the famous Apollo Theater in Harlem in 1942 at 18 years old. This led to stints in the big bands of Earl Hines and Billy Ecksten where she met and played with so many of the greats of the music, including Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Kenny Dorham, Art Blakey, Lucky Thompson, Gene Ammons and Dexter Gordon, among others.
Sassy learned the ins and outs of the music in these bands. By the time she set off on her own solo career, she was regarded as a consummate musician with perfect pitch, an incredible way with a lyric and a good scat singer as well. She continued to record and tour right up until the time of her passing in 1990 — that’s almost 50 years at the top of the game!
Years ago, I found almost an entire concert of Sassy’s on YouTube and it blew my mind. It’s from 1988 and features George Gaffney on piano, Andy Simkins on bass and Harold Jones on drums. She was in fine form, able to use an incredible range and showing so much emotion with every lyric. This song, “Here’s That Rainy Day,” is one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking tunes I know.
As a bonus, here’s a more upbeat song from one of Vaughan’s own favorite of her albums, which she made with trumpeter Clifford Brown in 1954, along with Herbie Mann on flute, Paul Quinichette on tenor, Jimmy Jones on piano, Joe Benjamin on bass and Roy Haynes on drums. This is called “You’re Not The Kind,” and shows what a similar happy bounce Vaughan and Brown both brought to their instruments:
One additional bonus, albeit somewhat self-serving: here’s Sarah singing “Just In Time,” which my wife and I chose as our first dance at our wedding!
Tomorrow we’ll turn our sights on a modern jazz singer, Gretchen Parlato.
Jason Parker is a Seattle-based jazz trumpet player, educator and writer. His band, The Jason Parker Quartet, was hailed by Earshot Jazz as “the next generation of Seattle jazz.” Find out more about Jason and his music at jasonparkermusic.com.