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Callaway’s Sarah Vaughan tribute album is no attempt at cheap imitation.

Music Review: Ann Hampton Callaway – ‘From Sassy to Divine: The Sarah Vaughan Project’

No matter whether you think of Ann Hampton Callaway as a songwriter, a cabaret artist or a jazz vocalist, there is no question you should also be thinking of her as a consummate artist. Her latest album released this month, a tribute to the jazz great Sarah Vaughan, makes that abundantly clear.

Unlike some tribute albums, Callaway’s From Sassy to Divine: The Sarah Vaughan Project is no attempt at cheap imitation. That is not how one artist honors another. You honor a musical artist by building on what they have done; you use the work associated with them as a spark to create something new, something of substance. That is exactly what Callaway has done.

Recorded live at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, the album explores songs, as Thomas Cunniffe’s liner notes point out, “closelyCalloway associated with Vaughan, and others where Vaughan’s recordings left an indelible mark on Callaway.” Mostly standards, Callaway handled all the arrangements but one along with Bill Mays, one of Vaughan’s former pianists. The orphan is a wonderful honky-tonk arrangement of “Mean to Me” from Ted Rosenthal, who plays piano on the album.

In an album filled with highlights, Callaway, like Vaughan, takes Billy Strayhorn’s “Chelsea Bridge” for a vocalese ride, and does some sweet scatting and creative phrasing along with some fine solo work from the ensemble on Duke Ellington’s “In a Mellow Tone.” “Interlude,” the vocal version of the instrumental “A Night in Tunisia” (first recorded by Vaughan), is an exotic flower. She uses the verse of “Someone to Watch Over Me” to emphasize the song’s passionate intensity. “Whatever Lola Wants” swings, while “Send in the Clowns” has a dark vibe with a little help from Beethoven. Callaway closes the set with a bit of Puccini mashing up “Un Bel Di” with the classic “Poor Butterfly.”

In addition to pianist Rosenthal, she is accompanied by bassist Dean Johnson and drummer Tim Horner. Randy Sandke plays trumpet and flugelhorn. Dick Oatts works with alto and soprano saxes and flute.

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  1. Thank you for this review, and for mentioning my liner notes. I would appreciate it if you would correct the spelling of my last name: “CUNNIFFE” not Cunliffe.