Tag Archives: Take 5

Take 5 Sarah Vaughan

Courtesy of National Jazz Museum in Harlem

Some singers can have all the formal training in the world and hit the right notes. Others, like Sarah Vaughan, can open her mouth and radiate divine and sassy otherworldliness. Though racism in the country and the conservatories barred her from her dream of studying opera, Vaughan, with her three octave range, had the power and the vibrato to match, even surpass any classical prima donna. Her baroque grandiosity and playful joie de vivre was clearly better suited for jazz where she was equally at home doing scat-filled bebop and searing ballads delivered as torchy arias.

She honed her piano and vocal abilities in church. Initially Vaughan entered herself in the Apollo Theatre’s Amateur Night as a pianist, where she did very well, winning second prize. As good as her piano skills were, her singing was her forte. When she reentered as a singer, she won top honor and scored a recording contract with Mercury Records.

Her warm, personable voice helped her become one of the most in-demand vocalists. Widespread success was a bit of a double edged sword as she wound up recording a fair amount of subpar novelty songs (like “Broken Hearted Melody,” which she later denounced strongly) with maudlin easy listening arrangements. However, she never entirely embraced being a jazz vocalist as she crossed over into other genres. (Some of her pop material like “Brazilian Romance” was quite good).

Later in her career, she boldly displayed her impressive range and cute silly humor in performances. While some critics found some of her later work to be heavy-handed, I found her to be at her best when she was at her biggest (though I will concede that she sometimes took it a bit too far with her rendition of “Send in the Clowns.”)

Although Vaughan chain smoked, boozed and feasted freely, you’d never know by listening to her sing. Her voice and her technique sounded more impeccable and effortless. If her hedonism didn’t tarnish her talent, it eventually got her body. After a year of struggling with emphysema, Sarah Vaughan died in 1990 at the age of 66. Here are five performances that represent her superhuman talent.

Easy Living

She performed several different, but wonderful renditions of this ballad. I like this version best because it’s the most playful (I love the way she delivers “but it’s fun”) and the most virtuosic. The way she slides from baritone to soprano is jaw dropping.

Sassy’s/Scat Blues

This entirely vocalese number demonstrates Vaughan’s brilliant ability to swing, belt, and sound bluesy at the same time whilst switching octaves in split seconds.

I Remember April

Although she more often sang vocalese, she was equally adept at fast paced scat as she does here with gusto. The pianist is also on fire.

Black Coffee

Even at in this minimalist, quiet rendition of this torch song, Vaughan conveys so much. Listen side by side with other versions by Peggy Lee and Rosemary Clooney and you’ll appreciate how special Vaughan’s voice is.

Bill Bailey

You can tell that Sarah Vaughan loved to perform, and her infectious energy rubs off on this Swedish audience who commanded to take not one, but two encores. Vaughan really works it out here.

Take 5 Retrospective: Liane Carroll

Courtesy of thekeyboard.co.uk

Courtesy of thekeyboard.co.uk

By Adam Tawfik

While I have nothing productive to show 95% of the time I binge on TV, every now and again this medium helps me discover something new and wonderful. One evening I stumbled across a concert on BBC (which has recently surfaced on YouTube thanks to the independent music label Splash Point Music) by an artist with whom I had absolutely no familiarity. This time my curiosity served we well.

From the moment Liane Carroll opened her set with her energetic piano playing skills and smoky soulful vocals on the swinging “That Old Black Magic,” I was a fan. In this performance (like in all her other concerts and CDs) Carroll enlivens her arrangements of an eclectic mix of old standards and more modern covers (of songs by The Beatles, Joni Mitchell, and Tom Waitts, among others) with a highly original footprint that feels fresh and modern without disregarding the integrity of the original material (and in many cases improving on it).

Courtesy of lianecarroll.co.uk

Courtesy of lianecarroll.co.uk

Several vocalists are also talented instrumentalists but don’t accompany themselves due to the difficulty of doing both at the same time. Carroll makes singing and playing piano simultaneously look effortless while doing both with gusto.

After being the first woman to win the BBC Jazz Awards twice, Carroll has built up a considerable fan base in Britain but still remains virtually unknown in the States, only having made her American debut in 2009 and touring here very seldom. At least she records albums regularly, most of which are available on Amazon and iTunes.

From interviews and fan recordings and testimonials, the Hastings-born Carroll seems approachable and totally unpretentious about her musical virtuosity. When she’s not on tour, Carroll performs at a local pub in her native Hastings, where she resides with her husband and sometimes collaborator, bassist Roger Carey.

Here are five tracks that demonstrate the versatility and dynamism of Liane Carroll.

5. How Insensitive

Although the bulk of Carroll’s work is solo, she collaborates with other musicians, the results are no less stellar. The usually bombastic and groovy Carroll gives a beautifully understated rendition of this Jobim classic. Bobby Wellen’s sax beautifully compliments her sultry voice.

4. Unknown

Full confession: Carroll does mention the name of the tune, but I can’t understand what she’s saying. But that doesn’t detract from my love for this upbeat scattastic track. In addition to Carroll’s soulful scatting, there are excellent solos from Roger Carey and drummer Greg Leppard.

3. Pennies from Heaven

Carroll’s smoky voice gives this delightfully old fashioned 1936 standard a more contemporary vibe whilst retaining the nostalgic pep in her piano playing. There’s also some great a cappella scatting to look forward to.

2. Wee Small Hours/River

Out of all her solo performances, her powerhouse medley of two heartbreak songs is my favorite. Carroll begins by delivering David Mann’s 1950s ballad “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” as a mournful lullaby, before she crescendos to Joni Mitchell’s “River” with a more animated sense of urgency.

1. Eleanor Rigby

Carroll’s gospel-sounding vocals and jazzified mid tempo give this Beatles cover poignant empathy and gravitas for the titular character and “all the lonely people” missing in the lethargic original version.