How Long Has This Been Going On

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Sarah Vaughan, How Long Has This Been Going On

That I own Sarah Sings the Pope (whatever it is really called) is all I need to cite to prove my love of Sarah Vaughan's voice. Having How Long Has This Been Going On, which is the only Pablo recording of hers that I didn't own come into my shop was a wonderful treat. Her voice and creativity are in their prime, the musicians solid. The songs are the usual suspects but that is fine if all the people performing are able and enjoying their labor.

Gunther Schuller's The Swing Era became my guidebook when I started exploring big band music. Even though the book is an exemplar of readable scholarship I never read through it. Mostly I consulted the index so I could read his overview of individual bands and performers.

Of Cab Calloway he said there wouldn't be another jazz singer with a comparable octave range until Sarah Vaughan. Naturally I had to find a Sarah Vaughan CD. Gordon found a cheap sampler for me. There were enough cuts that I enjoyed, most strongly those ofthe bop era for me to want more. Gordon had a banged up old Verve box set stored away, some of the discs were damaged but he'd never thrown it away.

Her 50s Verve recordings put me off at first. Middle of the road, too unambitious. Mostly I bought the small group recordings that had appeared on Mercury's EmArcy label. And any live recordings I could find. It was with her that I discovered that jazz singers were far more likely to be playful and improvise in concerts than in the studio. Her Live in Japan will always be one of my favorite jazz vocal CDs. Who knew you could do that with "Maria" from West Side Story.

Her range, virtuosity, judgment, improvisational gifts make her fit my idea of the perfect vocalist. Other folks want other things: emotion, mostly sadness really. When I used to tell people she was my favorite singer the most common response was that Vaughan was too much of a technician.

My tastes matured and I came to appreciate traditional pop, including Sarah Vaughan's. It was Louis Armstrong's work with Russell Garcia that taught me how to hear background strings. Though some, like those added by Jerry Wexler at Atlantic, I'll never forgive. I had to unlearn unconsidered prejudices of what I thought the bad pop culture of the prior generation.

Sarah Vaughan changed the way I hear singing. But that will be another entry.

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