"There aren't any tired songs, just tired singers."
That was Sarah Vaughan's answer when asked how she was able to give new life to old, tired material. The fun thing about On The Radio: The 1963 'Live' Guard Sessions, available on CD from Acrobat Music on November 11th, is the retention of such comments from the original radio broadcasts. Billed as "Sarah Vaughan & Woody Herman," those two artists very much share the spotlight. Herman conducts his orchestra, contributing clarinet and alto saxophone himself, while Vaughan takes the spotlight singing about half the songs.
Both Herman and Vaughan were music industry veterans at the time of these undated 1963 sessions, decades into their respective careers. Neither sound all that engaged in reading the scripted banter, consisting largely of corny jokes and National Guard plugs, that peppers this CD. Martin Block was the host and it's very entertaining hearing him direct the "recording session," which is how this radio program was presented.
"The Guard Sessions" was, as explained in the liner notes, sponsored by the National Guard. At one point, Sarah Vaughan tries to name the four U.S. presidents that (at that time) had been members of the Guard. Later, Woody Herman demands to know why his namesake, 28th President Woodrow Wilson, never served. The answer that Block provides isn't very interesting, but the point is all these spoken exchanges are important in preserving the atmosphere of the original broadcasts.
Not limited to National Guard trivia, there is some fun poked at the on-going names assigned to Herman's big band, known as his "Herd." The First Herd was assembled back in the '40s, and throughout his career he conducted a Second Herd, Third Herd, Thundering Herd, and others. For this session, Block christens the band "The Unperturbed Herd." At one point, Herman refers to the National Guard as "The Alerd [sic] Herd." It's silly but entertaining stuff, and I'm glad it's preserved for future listeners.
There's nothing silly or corny about the music. The highlights occur pretty much whenever Vaughan is singing, her precise phrasing and impressive range stealing the show. A swinging "Day In, Day Out" kicks things off in energetic fashion. Her tender handling of "I'll Be Seeing You" is a show stopping stand-out. Herman has his share of moments, too. After some teasing and prodding, he even takes the mic for a lead vocal on "Don't Go With Strangers." Vaughan mentions that much can be learned by observing the breathing technique of a musician who also sings. She was being serious, but Block just razzes Herman even more.
I didn't know he sometimes sang, so I was surprised to hear a capable (if a bit nasally) vocal performance. Horace Silver's "The Preacher" closes out the disc, and it features some pretty wild soloing from various members of Herman's Herd. There's hardly a happier feel-good tune in jazz, so "The Preacher" makes a fine finale.
Acrobat Music has done a good deed in keeping the music of a bygone era alive. The sound quality is better than you might expect from 45 year old recordings, clear enough during some numbers to hear background noise. "At the Woodchopper's Ball" features this oddly distracting chatter. I'm not sure if it was meant to simulate the sound of a live club or if there were just too many people in the radio studio. It doesn't really present a problem though, most of the recordings are technically fine. On The Radio: The 1963 'Live' Guard Sessions is a solid hour of entertainment from two of the legendary greats, Sarah Vaughan and Woody Herman.