Jazz legend Sarah Vaughan gets commemorative stamp March 29
BY JIM BECKMAN
WHAT: Sarah Vaughan Dedication and Unveiling Ceremony.
WHEN: 11 a.m. March 29.
WHERE: Sarah Vaughan Concert Hall, Newark Symphony Hall, 1020 Broad St., Newark. 973-643-8014 or newarksymphonyhall.org.
HOW MUCH: Free admission; reservations must be obtained at the box office in advance.
MORE INFO: ResonanceRecords.org
To be "sent" by a jazz performer is, in the lingo of '30s hepcats, to be thrilled — transported. The way singer Sarah Vaughan sent three generations of jazz fans.
And now — thanks to the U.S. Postal Service — you'll be able to say that you sent Sarah Vaughan.
Her glamorous image will now grace your envelopes and postcards, in the form of a "Commemorative Forever Stamp" being issued March 29 to honor the Newark-born jazz legend, who also lived in the early 1960s in Englewood Cliffs.
"I'm very glad they did it," says Dan Morgenstern, the Grammy-winning director emeritus of the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers-Newark, and former editor of DownBeat magazine, who served as a consultant for the Postal Service.
Vaughan joins distinguished company: other jazz greats honored with stamps include Billie Holiday (1994), Louis Armstrong (1995), Ella Fitzgerald (2007) and Miles Davis (2012).
"They've had a series of stamps with great singers and great musicians, and she's certainly someone who belongs up there," Morgenstern says. "And of course, she's from New Jersey."
A dedication ceremony and concert at Newark Symphony Hall, at 11 a.m. that morning, will include Tony-winning singer Melba Moore, Newark's Mount Zion Baptist Church Choir (where Vaughan got her start), ace jazz vocalists Carrie Jackson and Jazzmeia Horn, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, and WBGO-FM (88.3) host Rhonda Hamilton.
Coinciding with the stamp, and the ceremony, is a new double-album of never-before-released Sarah Vaughan live material. "Sarah Vaughan Live at Rosy's" ($24.98) released by Resonance Records in cooperation with National Public Radio, is a gig recorded at Rosy's jazz club on Valence Street in New Orleans on May 31, 1978. The tracks, featuring Vaughan and her trio (Carl Schroeder, piano; Walter Booker, bass; Jimmy Cobb, drums) were originally recorded for an NPR radio series, "Jazz Alive!," and diligently tracked down by producer Zev Feldman, who also got hold of additional material recorded that night and not broadcast.
"She was playing a club, which was very unusual," Feldman says. "At this time, she was playing concert halls all over the world. She would be playing Radio City Music Hall. This is so intimate, such a charged performance."
Among the cuts on the album are tunes that became identified with Vaughan, such as Stephen Sondheim's "Send in the Clowns" and a number of Gershwin standards: "Somebody Loves Me," "The Man I Love," "Fascinating Rhythm." Also: a tune that is definitely not identified with Vaughan. When one poor sap in the audience requests "A-Tisket, A-Tasket" — famously the signature song of Vaughan's colleague, Ella Fitzgerald — Vaughan responds with a sardonic "Well, I'll be damned!" and then proceeds to sing the song in her inimitable fashion. "I'll tell you who I am when I finish," she quips.
Not for nothing was Vaughan nicknamed "Sassy." "That just tells you how she would take charge of a situation," Feldman says. "She was so humorous."
Her other nickname, "The Divine One, "is a more serious tribute to her skill as a singer, the warmth of her tone, and her incredible range: said to be close to four octaves. "Sassy is so good now that when I listen to her I want to cut my wrists with a dull razor," Frank Sinatra said in 1972 (Vaughan died in 1990).
"She's almost operatic," says David Demsey, coordinator of jazz studies at William Paterson University in Wayne. "She's certainly one of the great voices in jazz. Her voice was an instrument. She's considered a parallel to any one of the great horn players of jazz — Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie. And there's that blues and drama in her voice, whether she's singing a jazz standard or 'Send in the Clowns.' "
Vaughan, born in Newark in 1924, was a child of the Great Migration: her parents came North from Virginia during World War I. She made her mark, as so many others have done, at the Apollo Theater Amateur Night; an appearance there in the fall of 1942, when she was 18, led to her being hired to open for Ella Fitzgerald, and in short order she became the singer for two top bandleaders in succession, Earl "Fatha" Hines and Billy Eckstine. Soon after, she launched a solo career, with a succession of hits ("Tenderly," "I Cried for You," "Make Yourself Comfortable," "Serenata" ) on a succession of labels (Musicraft, Columbia, Mercury, Roulette).
"She was not just a vocalist," Feldman says. "She had a natural gift. She could formulate her musical ideas like an instrumentalist."
Most jazz historians today consider her one of the triumvirate of great female vocalists — the two others being Fitzgerald and Holiday (blues singer Bessie Smith and trumpeter Louis Armstrong could be said to have begotten all three). "Those three are in a class by themselves," Morgenstern says. Though — he adds — all three are quite different.
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