Joe’s History of Jazz
Lesson 4C (Scroll down to Sarah Vaughan and Dizzy Gillespie’s version of Loverman.)

In the late 40s, vocal styles changed a bit from the big band-backed style of the pre-war years to something more compatible with bebop. That’s a broad generalization, but let’s go with it for a little bit. Sarah “Sassy” Vaughan, who had played with Earl Hines and Billy Eckstine during the early part of the decade struck out on her own. I’ve found some early recordings with Dizzy and Bird (including another version of Loverman). The thing to listen for with all the vocalists of this period, and possibly in jazz vocalisation in general is for the phrasing. How does the singer play her voice against the melody, both that provided by the instruments, and that in the song? In East of the Sun, listen to how Vaughan plays with the spacing of the words (at 1 minute 20) just before Dizzy’s solo.

I’ve included her version of Nat King Cole’s Nature Boy. What’s interesting about it is that due to another musicians’ strike, she recorded with a vocal choir rather than instrumental accompaniment. In the late 40s, Sassy signed with Columbia and had both critical and commercial successes including with this sweet version of Black Coffee, though Columbia pushed her away from jazz and more towards pop. This was common for the label – Billie Holiday’s earliest Columbia work features angel choirs as does some of Aretha Franklin’s pre-Atlantic work in the early 60s.

Ella Fitzgerald, who had been recording since the 1930s (both ‘pop fluff’ as her 1966 NY Times obituary noted), added scat singing to her style in the mid 40s, in response to bebop’s influence. Scat is primarily wordless vocal improvisation, but the singer must handle it deftly or risk losing the audience to what can come across as nonsense. Cab Calloway and Slim Gaillard generally used scat to humorous effect. I’ve added Slim’s Puerto Vootie to the playlist for a reference, though I’m not sure how much of the song is actual Spanish, and how much is Latin-tinged scat. For her more straight-ahead style, listen to what Ella does on this arrangement of I’m Beginning to See the Light with the Ink Spots. Ella’s My Baby Likes To Bebop has that sense of humour from the origins of scat, but one could argue that what she does on this recording of How High The Moon (she comes in at about 5 minutes 50) is straight-up improvisation. The thing to note is how she’s always in control – you can hear it as well on Flying Home. Her harmony with the other musicians doesn’t stray.

Billy Eckstine is a really interesting case – he toured with Earl Hines in the late 30s/early 40s before forming his own big band, but it was a bop big band and featured at various times Miles Davis, Dexter Gordon, Art Blakey, and Dizzy Gillespie, among others. He played trumpet (Opus X), but was primarily a vocalist, and later focused on ballads. You can hear both sides on two 1946 tracks, Oo Bop Sh’bam and Prisoner of Love. Listen to Blue Moon and You’re All I Need (a duet with Vaughan) to get how beautiful his tenor was.

Another balladeer who started out in the jazz realm was Nathaniel Adams Coles, better known as Nat King Cole. Born in Alabama in 1919 and raised in Chicago, he studied piano, including jazz, gospel, and classical music. He landed in LA in the late 30s, after touring with a Eubie Blake revue and decided to stay. There he formed the King Cole Swingers, later the Nat King Cole Trio, an instrumental combo to which Cole later added his vocal talents. His piano style influenced later musicians including Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, and Ray Charles. Peterson, also a pianist by trade, later recorded a beautiful album of vocals associated with Cole called With Respect to Nat. The Trio signed with Capitol records in 1943 and had its first hit with Straighten Up and Fly Right.

Next up: More Bop, More Blues.