Commemorating the 40-year anniversary of the legendary impresario Norman Granz’s founding of Pablo Records, Concord Records is releasing Sarah Vaughan’s Sophisticated Lady: The Duke Ellington Songbook Collection. The two-disc set is a re-release of the great singer’s 1979 albums Duke Ellington Songbook, Vol. 1 and Duke Ellington Songbook, Vol. 2.
More importantly for Vaughan enthusiasts, the album begins with six previously unreleased tunes arranged by the peerless Benny Carter which had been recorded in August of 1979, but were not used on either of the original albums. It is suggested that Vaughan vetoed the songs from this session, later recorded with other ensembles, because Granz failed to provide a solo opportunity for trumpeter Waymon Reed, her husband at the time. Indeed the only soloist credited on the session is tenor sax master Zoot Sims, and Reed is not even mentioned in the ensemble.
Whether or not this story is true, it is true that Granz had hired a number of big name jazz artists—J. J. Johnson, Joe Pass, Grady Tate, Jimmy Rowles and Zoot—to come in later in the month for a small ensemble session which included some of these same tunes, and Waymon Reed (on flugelhorn) as well. He had also commissioned arrangements of some for big band and strings from trombonist Billy Byers, and these were recorded in September.
The Concord set arranges the music chronologically by session, so it opens with the unreleased material. Carter’s arrangements of classics like “Sophisticated Lady,” “Lush Life,” “In a Sentimental Mood,” and “Solitude” are much too fine to be buried in some record company’s archive. Sims’ lyricism is an emphatic supplement to the singer’s smoky romance. This is not to imply that there is anything wrong with the later versions, but these are vintage Vaughan and they deserve to be heard.
Indeed the complete set is a reminder of what a great singer can do with great material. Between the two discs there are 27 songs and there isn’t a clunker in the lot. If you like the big band sound, the second disc has some exciting performances of “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” and “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart.” Vaughan’s vocal on “Black Butterfly” is something special, as is her take on “In a Mellow Tone.”
If you like the singer with a smaller ensemble, you’ll appreciate her work on tunes like the longer version of “Day Dream” released on the original album where Reed takes an effective solo as well as the soulful rendition of “Solitude.” Minimalists will look to the three songs that end the second disc where the singer is accompanied by Mike Wofford on piano and Joe Pass on guitar: “Prelude to a Kiss,” “Everything But You,” and “I Ain’t Got Nothin’ But the Blues.” These are unadulterated Vaughan. But if you like just a little adulteration, you can feast on the raucous “Rocks in My Bed,” where she is joined on the vocal by Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson.
Ellington’s music, all-star musicians, and Sarah Vaughan. It’s a combination hard to beat.