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Ann Hampton Callaway: From Sassy to Divine: The Sarah Vaughan Project

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Among vocal jazz’s female holy trinity, Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald have been lionized most but Sarah Vaughan has been feted best, via such fine salutes as Carmen McRae’s Sarah: Dedicated to You and Dianne Reeves’ The Calling. What, then, can an artist like Ann Hampton Callaway add? Plenty, it turns out.

Like Vaughan, who was equally comfortable, at least during her formative years, in the pop and jazz spheres, Callaway is an impressively fluid musician. Vaughan understood showmanship better than Holiday or Fitzgerald, and was exceedingly skilled at shaping the arc of a set. Thanks to her firm cabaret grounding, Callaway is similarly expert. By extension, Callaway is, as Vaughan was, best heard live, drawing on the audience’s energy to up her game and texturing the performance accordingly. How wise, then, to capture this recording at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola before a clearly appreciative crowd. (Interestingly, Vaughan’s late-career habit of being overly mannered-her too-flourished technique often obscured her emotional sincerity-is one aspect that Callaway sidesteps.)

Working alongside pianist Ted Rosenthal, bassist Dean Johnson, drummer Tim Horner, saxophonist/flutist Dick Oatts and trumpeter/flugelhornist Randy Sandke, Callaway surveys the entirety of Vaughan’s multi-shaded career, from the pop fizz of “Whatever Lola Wants” and the Latin lilt of “Wave” to the boplicious curves of “In a Mellow Tone” and inky depths of “A Night in Tunisia.” She sounds nothing like Vaughan; yet, in shaping so attentive a narrative, she captures her both wisely and well.

Originally Published