By Bob Andelman
October 19, 1984
Sarah Vaughan sang at a lot of church and school functions before that fateful day in 1942 in Harlem at the Apollo Theater’s amateur hour.
“That’s when I first got discovered. Billy Eckstine discovered me, and within two weeks I was singing with Earl Hines.”
It all sounded very matter-of-fact as Vaughan recounted her beginnings in a telephone interview from her home in Canoga Park, Calif. She will perform tonight at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater.
“If it wasn’t for Billy Eckstine,” she said, “I wouldn’t be in show business, I doubt it. He’s the best friend I ever had in show business.” . Vaughan disdains talking about how she does her work- “I don’t like to pinpoint nothing,” she said.
SARAH VAUGHAN podcast excerpt: “I don’t know what I have got. l just sing. That’s about it; Who sings better or worse or has got more than I have got, I don’t know. I just get up there and sing and try to please the people.”
BORN IN Newark, N.J. on March 27, 1924, Vaughan studied piano and organ, in addition to singing in her church choir. She was 19 years old when she joined Hines’ outfit. moving on to be vocalist in Eckstine’s bebop band a year later. That group included Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, with whom she unleashed her first hit,” Lover Man,” in 1945.
Vaughan has always worked with well-known jazz musicians. They seek her out, because few women or men in jazz have her octave range and stylistic options. She also has worked with Bud Powell, Lennie Tristano, Tadd Dameron, Clifford Brown, the Count Basie Orchestra, Paul Quinchette, Herbie Mann, Oscar Peterson and Miles Davis.
Says band leader Nat Adderley: “Sarah Vaughan is absolutely amazing. Amazing! I love Sarah Vaughan. Now Sarah Vaughan, I’ve got all her records – I don’t have all of mine, but I’ve got all of Sarah’s. Sarah is in the top three any way I look at it.”
For a special trio of concerts at Carnegie Han in March 1979, Vaughan was feted by Gerry Mulligan and Mel Torme the first night, Betty Carter and Eddie Jefferson the second and Count Basie and his Orchestra the third night.
IT IS NOT surprising then, that she credits her enduring popularity to “being surrounded by good musicians.” And although unwilling to choose a favorite accompanist, Vaughan does have some special words for the late Charlie Parker. He was the greatest person on earth playing saxophone,” she said.
In the 1950s, Vaughan began to move from the bebop movement to a more mainstream style. Her recordings of “Misty,” “Broken Hearted Melody,” “April in Paris,” “Autumn in New York,” “Moonlight in Vermont,” “Whatever Lola Wants” and what one critic called the definitive version of George Shearing’s “Lullaby of Birdland” are examples of a singer able to move from sultry romantic ballads to intense vibrato and bebop phrasing.
In recent years, she has recorded acclaimed collections of songs by the Beatles and George Gershwin. Earlier this year she went into the studio with Barry Manilow, and now she is negotiating to work with Quincy Jones.
When she appeared in the Doubleday lecture series at the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History, composer-critic Gunther Schuller called her “quite simply the greatest vocal artist of our century.”
Pianist George Gaffney, bassist Andy Sintkins and drummer H Jones will be supporting Vaughan at her Clearwater appearance. “I have got the best trio in the world,” she boasted.
THAT WAS the only immodes contention Vaughan made. She simply likes to do what she has to do and then move on without giving the art too much consideration. It works why change a good thing?
“I don’t know what I have got. l just sing,” she said. “That’s about it; Who sings better or worse or has got more than I have got, I don’t know. I just get up there and sing and try to please the people.”