It’s always welcome event when a new recording of jazz legend Sarah Vaughan — aka “Sassy”… aka “The Divine One” — surfaces. Its even more exciting when the recording is of high quality and more exciting still when it represents a somewhat under-documented (and perhaps under-appreciated, by some) period of her career.
Thus is the case with Live at Rosy’s, new from the good folks at Resonance Records: a new live Sarah Vaughan recording made in the Spring of 1978. By this point in her career, Sarah was an established giant at age 54 yet still was bouncing around on various labels not quite worthy of her iconic stature — she should have been considered royalty on major labels but instead was relegated to transient indies like Mainstream Records (in the early 70s). Norman Granz’ fine RCA-distributed Pablo Records imprint helped to re-elevate her status with a slew of new releases between 1977 and 1979; Sarah remained a popular success on the stage, even appearing regularly on Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show and Merv Griffin’s popular variety talk show.
In any event, its nice to have a new, near complete show from this period in excellent fidelity and documenting a band she performed with hundreds of times on stage — including pianist Carl Schroeder, bassist Walter Booker and legendary drummer Jimmy Cobb (who played on some of Miles Davis’ finest works including Kind of Blue). The synergy of their performance together is evident from pretty much the get go on Live at Rosy’s. These players are all in tune with one another on a magical level, loose yet responsive, tight yet free, supporting one another, and most importantly, supporting Sarah.
The sound on this CD set is terrific, recorded and mixed for NPR back in the day; this is the first time that nearly the entire performance has been issued. Maybe at some point we’ll get to hear this music in an uncompressed form via high resolution download or on Blu-ray Disc — Live at Rosy’s would also make a really sweet two LP package (hint, hint, Resonance Records!)
Sarah’s voice is deeper and rounder here than her more youthful recordings from the 50s and early 60s, but no less dynamic. In fact, she is arguably more dynamic, stretching across the octaves from rich resonating growls to the sweetest of trills.
Some of my favorites on this set include a fabulous version of Stephen Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns” (which became a signature tune for her around this time). On George Gershwin’s “Fascinating Rhythm” she breaks down the tune in the middle to a faux-Bach / Swingle Sisters-esque reveal, underscoring the musical connection great songwriting and arranging can easily span across musical genres, be it classical, jazz or pop.
“Everything Must Change” is a somber-but-gorgeous showcase for just how achingly beautiful Sarah’s interpretations could get, transitioning from a poignant piano and vocal piece (think Stevie Wonder’s “All In Love is Fair”) to an almost funky slow jam bridge / solo section that reaches to the stratosphere. Just fantastic! And who is this Bernard Ighner, who wrote this tune? Apparently, according to the Wiki, he is singer / composer who Dizzy Gillespie discovered in the mid 60s (and who Quincy Jones recorded).. I need to track down some of his music soon!
Music discovery time, folks. Music discovery.
Live at Rosy’s wraps up with a transcendent version of Rogers’s and Hart’s “My Funny Valentine,” a fitting end to a love letter performance left behind from Sarah to us all.
This is essential listening for Sarah fans and a fine place to start for newbies. Check it out.