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Samara Joy, vocalist
“Time After Time”
I admire how much care she puts into every word, making sure that the story of the song is heard and felt. Any improvisatory changes made to the melody are done with taste and feeling. I also love how she uses the full range of her voice to deliver the song. I almost thought the song ended once she hit that final high A-flat, but after descending two octaves lower, oscillating between G and A-flat, this Sarah performance became an instant favorite.
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Ben Ratliff, former Times jazz and pop critic
“The Thrill Is Gone”
I like hearing Sarah Vaughan tear it up on an extra-slow-tempo ballad, 50 beats per minute or lower. With small groups, her unremitting virtuosity made a certain kind of design sense: She filled in the canyon-like spaces between beats. But I also like hearing her singing at slug tempos with thick, commercial, easy-listening studio arrangements: In an atmosphere of languid appeasement, she bounces off the walls. For the front half of “The Thrill Is Gone,” on “Vaughan and Violins” (1958), the arrangement by Quincy Jones clears open space for her to go full Sarah, strange Sarah, with her feats of breath control, mic technique, timbral shifts, trilling and sliding notes, hard emphatic gestures. But she keeps doing it after the tide of violins enters. I mean, the first “gone” is more than three seconds long, most of it the letter “n”; at 0:34, she delivers a pinched, acid “… si-ii-ighs”; at 0:38, “a-hand re-ee-huh-a-lize”; at 0:51, “the nights: the nights are so cold.” At a certain point you’re noticing every detail. Most affective ballads work their affect intermittently — there are a few select peaks, which makes them easier to remember. Vaughan’s were nearly all peak, and in that she took a risk.
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Charenee Wade, vocalist
“Once in a While”
Sarah Vaughan, my first musical love, always brought newness to everything she sang each time she stepped onto the stage. There is a great early recording on MGM in 1949 of this song where, if one listens closely, her undeniably infectious tone and masterful phrasing speak through. This particular clip of her live performance of “Once in a While” is filmed almost 30 years later, and that essence is still there, but even more enriched. Her vocal range was unparalleled and became even deeper as she “seasoned.” She is a soulfully spontaneous and playful improviser. Her stage presence is transfixing, and her comedic timing is delightfully charming. She holds the entire room in the palm of her hand with each story she tells and intimate moment she shares. Her vocal technique is flawless, no matter which decade of her career, and one would be blessed to be able to witness her sitting down at the piano and accompanying herself just as well as any pianist had for her in the past. She is iconic, and quintessentially the definition of a True Jazz Vocalist. My first love, and I know you will love her too!
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Elaine M. Hayes, biographer
“Whatever Lola Wants”
Sarah Vaughan’s “Whatever Lola Wants,” released in 1955, is a pop masterpiece. In less than three minutes, she perfectly embodies her role as a provocative temptress while demonstrating her vocal prowess, technical mastery, and savvy as a storyteller. On the surface, she sings straight. But she in fact infuses the Broadway tune with her trademark vocal inflections and nuances. A delicious slide here, a microtonal bend there. With each verse she adds layers of complexity that build momentum, pulling the listener through her performance. And while Vaughan keeps a strict beat, she deftly conveys uncertainty and spontaneity, constantly pushing the boundaries between control and the loss of control to produce a delightful tension between the two. Musically, she has re-created the dynamics of a successful seduction. By the time she sings the final “I’m irresistible, you fool/Give in, give in, give in,” her success — and the success of her single, which peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard and Variety charts — seems a foregone conclusion.
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Fredara Hadley, scholar
“The Shadow of Your Smile”
The older I get, the more I revel in listening to grown women’s voices. We often think of what age subtracts, but I’m attracted by what it adds. Growing up in church, people would say, “You have to be a certain age to sing that song.” Sometimes, life experience has to catch up with lyrics. One recording that always makes me feel this way is Sarah Vaughan’s 1966 interpretation of Johnny Mandel and Paul Francis Webster’s “The Shadow of Your Smile.” Sarah Vaughan is a master interpreter of song, both melodically and narratively. I know there are countless recordings of this song, but whenever someone mentions it, I only ever think of hers.
This is Vaughan in her 40s singing with an alluring alchemy of tender reflection with the gravitas of life experience. All of her soulful vocal virtuosity paired with an orchestral arrangement infused with a bossa nova groove lulls the listener into a dreamscape. It is nearly four minutes of her starting deep in her rich contralto voice and carrying us higher into her lilting soprano. Her vocal ascent reflects the lyrical joy of remembrance, and then toward the end, she gently descends and places us back into reality. It’s an expertly crafted blend of shadow and sun, light and dark, in the colors of her voice and the story she tells. This is Sarah Vaughan in full bloom as a singer and as a woman.