It’s surprising how often Sarah Vaughan gets passed off with a comparison to Ella Fitzgerald, considering how different the two singers sound. While a quite flattering—not to mention lofty—parallel, it isn’t likely the rich, deep tones so common in Fitzgerald’s ballads would ever be mistaken for the lighter, vibrato-ridden Vaughan, or vice versa. Still, as she got on in years, the air was admittedly let out of her sails a bit, and she grew closer to the deepness Ella had all along, as is exposed here.
This collection works best as an introduction to all the spectrums of the one some knew as simply Sassy, a nickname Vaughan earned due to her ease with singing be-bop. It seems this is why the Cocktail Hour series was created; given the complete lack of liner notes, dates, and accompanying musicians, it’s as if its originators are implying the timelessness of the music and placing the focus solely on the singer the album showcases.
Vaughan certainly deserves the honor of having her own collection, a worthy romp through jazz standards well known and some not so. Though it lacks some of her most memorable recordings—“Lullaby of Birdland” among them—it’s the lesser-known gems given the Vaughan operatic treatment that pull the biggest grins here. The airiness of “All Too Soon” fits in splendidly as the opener, setting a precedent for the first volume for what sounds to be a peek at her earliest work with Lester Young and/or Clifford Brown. And, though they sound as if they were recorded directly from a nearby playing record player, her takes on “Time After Time”, “Body and Soul”, and “Broken Hearted Melody” are, as they say, worth the price of admission.
It’s the second disc that exposes the softer side of Vaughan, known to still others as The Divine One. “‘Round Midnight” and “Star Eyes” should be taken with a glass of Merlot, candlelight, and a special someone worthy of all kinds of romantic entanglement. While she accomplishes these and other ballads of the lovelorn as good if not better than Ella, Nina, or Billie—throwing a couple of curveballs with “Lord’s Prayer” and “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child”—it’s a bit sad her real talent isn’t exposed here: her gift for scat. Vaughan could scat like none other, but one wouldn’t know so by listening to this collection. A warm burning fire is comforting, but a few well-placed scat numbers would have welcomed just the right amount of needed spark to complete the package.