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Jazz Review : Sarah Vaughan On The Loose At Hollywood Bowl

August 29, 1986|LEONARD FEATHER

How many singers can attract 35,000 people during two nights at the Hollywood Bowl, then return six weeks later and fill 12,904 seats?

As a replacement for the ailing Ella Fitzgerald on Wednesday evening, Sarah Vaughan showed that her box-office strength matches her vocal power.

Of course, singing an all-Gershwin program with a symphony orchestra, as she did in July, she no doubt drew an audience very different from this crowd, which came to hear her offer pop and jazz standards accompanied only by her rhythm section.

This occasion was as unpredictable as the Gershwin nights were formal. In fact, Vaughan was at her loosest--looser perhaps than she herself realized.

Not that there was any shortage of sublime moments. The Tadd Dameron ballad "If You Could See Me Now," which she first recorded almost 40 years ago, has taken on fresh melodic variations over the years. "Wave," the Antonio Carlos Jobim song that places upon many singers a demand that their range cannot match, was no problem for our grande dame of jazz; she not only hit the low note (an E flat) on the last syllable of "together," but even followed it by dipping down to a D. Later she began taking syllables on unforeseeable roller-coaster rides--up an octave here, down a seventh there--followed by a long series of apparently unplanned additional lyrics.

Looking as good as she obviously felt (she seems to have lost around 30 pounds), Vaughan sang "All of Me" rubato, with Frank Collett at the piano, then turned to her bassist, Andy Simpkins, and repeated the words recitative-style, acting out such lines as "take my lips" so realistically that she added an aside: "Is your wife here tonight?"

Good fun is good fun; however, in "My Funny Valentine" she finally went over the edge. The antic sense of humor worked for a while but, given the inherent beauty of the song, eventually it became counterproductive. There was trouble, too, when she tried to start "East of the Sun" backed by Simpkins but had to stop and admit, "I don't know where you are."

Yes, she was in magnificent voice, and yes, she did a couple of shoo-bedoo interludes, and yes, she did wind up with "Send In the Clowns," a song that has a mysterious fascination even if you can't figure out what the heck is the meaning of those lyrics. Because of the kidding around, her show ran 15 minutes overtime, probably worrying nobody but the producer.

The evening had begun with a crystalline series of illustrations by Benny Carter of his undimmed mastery of the alto saxophone. Deviating from his customary repertoire, Carter applied his unique sense of symmetry and tonal luster to "Only Trust Your Heart," a song from one of his lesser-known movie scores, as well as to such exquisite Carter melodies as "Evening Star."

A bonus for veteran Carter watchers aware of his versatility was his trumpet specialty. Weaving his way seamlessly through two choruses of "Body and Soul," he evinced a tone and sense of phrasing just as personal as that of his alto. He was wise in his choice of sidemen; with Gerald Wiggins at the piano, John Heard on bass and Sherman Ferguson on drums, the swinging was easy, clear through to the calypso-like finale "South Side Samba."

The George Shearing Duo has been reviewed here too frequently to call for much additional comment beyond the observation that both Shearing and Don Thompson, his bassist and second pianist, were in peak form. Shearing's Tatum-like "Yesterdays," the funky gospelization of Irving Berlin's "What'll I Do" and the superhuman celerity of Thompson's bass solo on the old be-bop tune "Crazeology" were special gemstones in this necklace of sound.

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