Although vocalist Sarah Vaughan vehemently denied being a jazz singer when a jazz magazine journalist interviewed her in the 1980s, some recent compact discs offer exemplary evidence to the contrary. While Vaughan's career, which began in the '40s and lasted until the '80s, successfully ping-ponged between pop and jazz, her beginnings were entirely in jazz, and jazz was a lifelong affection.
The depth of her jazz talent is gloriously revealed on Sarah Vaughan in Hi-Fi (Columbia/Legacy). The title might sound dated, but there is nothing obsolete in her treatment of standards like "East of the Sun (West of the Moon)" and "Ain't Misbehavin." Backed by a young Miles Davis, whose pensively bluesy trumpet introduction to "It Might as Well Be Spring" is a hair-raising moment, Vaughan proves herself at this early stage in her career as the most versatile of jazz vocalists.
She glides effortlessly from an operatic voice laced with broad vibrato to an intimate whisper. In addition to Davis, such be-bop luminaries as trombonist Benny Green and clarinetist Tony Scott provide rhythmically uplifting backing. Newly remastered sound as well as nine previously unreleased selections make this package from 1950 a valuable addition for fans of jazz song at its most stylish.
Vaughan grew rapidly in confidence as a swinging vocalist. A new CD reissue of a 1961 session, After Hours (Roulette Jazz), reveals her dramatic advance. The decorative trills she added to lyrics occasionally for dramatic emphasis became a decade later startlingly elaborate webs of gorgeous sound in their own right. In what might be the most sublime interpretation of Duke Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood" ever, she sings "wings of every kiss" repeatedly, until you hear, through her fluttery execution, kisses taking wing. Only guitarist Mundell Lowe and bassist George Duvivier accompany her, making this the most satisfying of Vaughan recordings.
Vaughan fans might also want to hear jazz pianist Ran Blake's Unmarked Van - a Tribute to Sarah Vaughan (Soul Note), a captivating set of solo piano improvisations upon Vaughan's most beloved songs. Blake's meditations on songs like "Tenderly" honor Vaughan's penchant for harmonic ingenuity and witty allusion.