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ClassicsOnline Home » VAUGHAN, Sarah: Come Rain or Come Shine (1949-1953)
Throughout jazz history, there have been many
talented singers, ranging from Louis Armstrong
(who defined jazz singing), Bessie Smith and
Billie Holiday to Anita O’Day, Joe Williams, Mel
Torme, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Kurt Elling.
To many, Ella Fitzgerald was the perfect jazz
singer, always being in-tune, swinging and
interpreting lyrics with joy. One of the few other
vocalists who deserve to be in the same sentence
with Ella is Sarah Vaughan, whose voice was so
tremendous that it deserves its own category.
When listening to a Sarah Vaughan record, it
is difficult not to want to exclaim ‘What a voice!’
Her range was very wide, her tone was
consistently beautiful and she had the ability to
do anything she wanted with her instrument. In
addition, she was one of the first singers to really
understand bebop, resulting in modern phrasing
and an adventurous choice of notes, even when
she was heard in a commercial pop setting.
Sassy (Sarah Vaughan’s lifelong nickname)
was born 27 March 1924 in Newark, New Jersey.
She received training as a pianist and
occasionally in later years would play piano for a
song or two in public. In addition, she sang in
church and her brilliance was obvious from an
early age. In 1943 the teenage Vaughan won an
amateur contest at the Apollo Theater. Singer
Billy Eckstine heard her and recommended Sassy
to bandleader-pianist Earl Hines, who hired her
both as a singer and as a second pianist. The
Earl Hines Orchestra at the time also included
Charlie Parker (on tenor) and trumpeter Dizzy
Gillespie but tragically the pioneering bebop
orchestra did not record due to the Musicians
Union strike; not even a radio broadcast exists.
In 1944, Billy Eckstine formed his own big
band, soon hiring Sassy along with Gillespie and
Parker. While Vaughan only recorded one song
with the Eckstine Orchestra, she learned a great
deal during this period as can be heard on her
first record session as a leader, four titles from
31 December 1944 that are quite boppish.
Sarah Vaughan left Eckstine in 1945 and,
after a few months being featured with the John
Kirby Sextet, by early 1946 she was on her own.
Her solo career was successful from the start and
Vaughan’s popularity never dropped. During the
next forty years, she was quite consistent and
never had an off period.
Sassy’s best recordings of the 1946-48
period are on the previously released Naxos
compilation Trouble Is A Man (8.120763). Come
Rain Or Come Shine covers 1949-53, the era
when, having graduated from Musicraft,
Vaughan was recording regularly for Columbia, a
major label whose records were well distributed.
Branching out beyond the jazz world, Sarah
Vaughan was often accompanied by string
orchestras during this period as her records were
sold to a pop market. However her singing
always retained its jazz sensibilities and much of
I Cried For You serves as a perfect
introduction to the 25-year old’s singing. While
paying respect to the melody and the words
during the two choruses, she also shows off
much of her range, altering notes here and there,
and showing that there was no limit to what she
could do with her voice. The studio big band,
led by arranger Hugo Winterhalter, swings and
also hints at bebop.
Black Coffee, a lowdown blues with lyrics full
of yearning and helplessness, became a hit with
Sassy’s version reaching No.13 on the popularity
charts. Cole Porter’s obscure Bianca is from the
same session and has the Joe Lippman Orchestra
(which includes a vocal group and a string
section) boasting some strong trumpeters and a
swinging rhythm section.
During 21-22 December 1949, Sarah
Vaughan was featured on two very different
sessions. The earlier set begins with a classic
ballad rendition of You’re Mine, You. Sassy
sounds quite beautiful, sliding between
unexpected notes. The accompaniment by the
Joe Lippman Orchestra on this selection was
arranged by the versatile bop writer Tadd
Dameron. The band is full of swing all-stars
although they stick to ensembles. Hoagy
Carmichael’s The Nearness Of You starts out
with the rarely-heard verse and is taken very slow,
with only pianist Jimmy Jones backing Sarah
before the full band comes in during the chorus.
At no moment does Vaughan waver or hesitate.
Few other singers could swing so confidently at
this laidback a tempo. Summertime is also taken
at a more relaxed pace than usual, with bassist
Ed Safranski adding tension and suspense to the
The following day, Sassy had her first
recorded musical reunion with Billy Eckstine, five
years after she had sang with his orchestra. Their
voices blend together beautifully, showing that
Eckstine was one of the few male singers who
could hold his own with Vaughan. On Dedicated
To You, Mr B even echoes one of her phrases
successfully while You’re All I Need is a love song
sung between two close lifelong friends.
During 18-19 May 1950, Sarah Vaughan
recorded her one out-and-out jazz project for
Columbia, resulting in eight titles of which six are
included here. Sassy is joined by an all-star octet
that includes trumpeter Miles Davis and three
other cool-toned soloists: clarinettist Tony Scott,
trombonist Bennie Green and tenor-saxophonist
Budd Johnson. All of the performances are classics
and have their memorable moments. Can’t Get
Out Of This Mood, a song that deserves to be
heard more often, has short solos by three of the
four horn players, all but the trumpeter. In
contrast, Miles Davis is prominent throughout It
Might As Well Be Spring and his melancholy
horn fits perfectly with Sassy, as does Scott’s
clarinet at the song’s harmonized conclusion.
Mean To Me was formerly closely associated
with Billie Holiday, but it is obvious from the
beginning of this performance that Vaughan’s
interpretation owes nothing to any previous
version. Her final chorus is worthy of any major
saxophonist. Come Rain Or Come Shine is
taken slow and is full of subtle invention. Nice
Work If You Can Get It swings happily and has a
nice spot for Miles Davis. Vaughan recorded
East Of The Sun at her first session as a leader
and it remained in her repertoire for over a
decade. Listen to those low notes she hits and
holds with apparently no effort.
My Reverie, a classical melody by Debussy
that became a hit in the late 1930s for Larry
Clinton’s orchestra with Bea Wain on the vocal,
was revived for a Sarah Vaughan date in 1951.
Sassy does things to the melody that one
imagines neither Debussy nor Bea Wain could
It has been often said that with her voice,
Sarah Vaughan could have been an opera singer.
She came closest to that idiom during this era
when she sang religious-based material such as
her emotional versions of City Called Heaven
and Ave Maria.
With its wide intervals and advanced
harmonies, Spring Will Be A Little Late his Year
can be a little difficult to sing, but not for Sassy,
who glides effortlessly throughout the song. A
Blues Serenade, made famous by Bing Crosby
twenty years earlier, uses most of Sarah’s range.
She hits the high notes with as much confidence
as the low ones.
This rewarding collection concludes with
Perdido, which by 1950 was already a jazz
standard. While more closely associated with
Ella Fitzgerald who scatted throughout it, Sassy
takes “Perdido” slightly slower and emphasizes
the words but her performance is no less
swinging and miraculous in its own way.
Sarah Vaughan would have many other
miraculous musical moments in a career that
lasted until shortly before her 3 April 1990
death. The music on Come Rain Or Come Shine
shows just how exciting a singer she already was
during the 1949-53 period.
Scott Yanow – author of nine jazz books including Jazz
On Film, Swing, Bebop, Trumpet Kings and Jazz On
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VAUGHAN, Sarah: Come Rain or Come Shine (1949-1953...