Sarah Vaughan – Sings George Gershwin, Volume One

More Sarah Vaughan

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  • No other copy could touch this original Black Label Stereo Mercury pressing for warmth, richness, and, most especially, in-the-room presence and intimacy
  • If all you know are Heavy Vinyl reissues of The Divine One’s album, our Shootout Winner here should be a sonic treat the likes of which you may never have experienced before
  • An original Mercury pressing that has no audible marks and plays as quietly as this one does is a rare find indeed – it seems to be the quietest copy from our shootout, and even better, no other copy earned higher grades
  • 4 stars: “Since these 15 selections are fairly concise, the emphasis is on the melody and the original lyrics… Vaughan, who had a wondrous voice, is in excellent form on the superior material.

This vintage Black Label Mercury stereo LP has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern pressings barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing any sign of coming back.

Having done this for so long, we understand and appreciate that rich, full, solid, Tubey Magical sound is key to the presentation of this primarily vocal music. We rate these qualities higher than others we might be listening for (e.g., bass definition, soundstage, depth, etc.). The music is not so much about the details in the recording, but rather in trying to recreate a solid, palpable, real Sarah Vaughan singing live in your listening room. The best copies have an uncanny way of doing just that.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of older recordings (this one is now 64 years old), I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but less than one out of 100 new records do, if our experience with the hundreds we’ve played can serve as a guide.

Sarah in Her Prime

We’ve been fortunate to have a number of excellent sounding Sarah Vaughan records find their way onto our turntable over the course of the last few years, but not all that many of them have made it to the site.

Most of the reason for this sorry state of affairs can be attributed to the paucity of clean copies of her prime albums for Mercury (Emarcy being Mercury’s jazz subsidiary) in local record stores. Most of the time her best albums are either missing or scratched. Plenty of Pablos and Mainstreams, sure, but we have never been all that impressed with either label’sfemale recordings of female vocalists.

Finding 63 year old pressings in audiophile playing condition is not easy, but if you hit the records shops in Los Angeles often enough, a copy or two per year is bound to come your way, and eventually there will be enough LPs to do a shootout. Case in point: This very pressing is the result of years of digging through the bins. And when the sound and music are this good, we feel that the time and money that went into finding such a wonderful record were well spent indeed.

What outstanding sides on Sarah Vaughan Sings George Gershwin have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1957
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

What to Listen For

Copies with rich lower mids did the best in our shootout, assuming they weren’t veiled or smeary of course. So many things can go wrong on a record! We know, we’ve heard them all.

Top end extension is critical to the sound of the best copies. Lots of old records (and new ones) have no real top end; consequently the studio or stage will be missing much of its natural ambience and space, and instruments will lack their full complement of harmonic information.

Tube smear is common to pressings from every era and this is no exception. The copies that tend to do the best in a shootout will have the least (or none), yet are full-bodied, tubey and rich.

Learning the Record

For our recent shootout, we had at our disposal a number of pressings with the potential for Hot Stamper sound. (All stereo; the mono pressings were a joke.)

We cleaned them carefully, then unplugged everything in the house we could, warmed up the system, Talisman’d it, found the right VTA for our Triplanar arm (by ear of course) and proceeded to spend the next hour or so playing copy after copy on side one, after which we repeated the process for side two.

If you have five or ten copies of a record and play them over and over against each other, the process itself teaches you what’s right and what’s wrong with the sound of the album. Once your ears are completely tuned to what the best pressings do well that other pressings do not do as well, using a few specific passages of music, it will quickly become obvious how well any given copy reproduces those passages.

The process is simple enough. First, you go deep into the sound. There you find a critically important passage in the music, one which most copies struggle — or fail — to reproduce as well as the best. Now, with the hard-won knowledge of precisely what to listen for, you are perfectly positioned to critique any and all pressings that come your way.

It may be a lot of work but it sure ain’t rocket science, and we never pretended it was. Just the opposite: from day one we’ve explained how to go about finding the Hot Stampers in your own collection. (The problem is that unless you’re a crazy person who bought multiple copies of the same album there is no way to know if any given copy is truly Hot Stamper. Hot Stampers are not merely good sounding records. They are copies that win shootouts. This is a fact that cannot be emphasized too strongly.

As your stereo and room improve, as you take advantage of new cleaning technologies, as you find new and interesting pressings to evaluate, you may even be inclined to start the shootout process all over again, to find the hidden gem, the killer copy that blows away what you thought was the best.

You can’t find it by looking at it. You have to clean it and play it, and always against other pressings of the same album. There is no other way.

For the more popular records on the site such as the Beatles titles we have easily done more than twenty, maybe even as many as thirty to forty shootouts.

And very likely learned something new from everyone.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

A1 Isn’t It A Pity 3:52
A2 Of Thee I Sing 3:11
A3 I’ll Build A Stairway To Paradise 2:39
A4 Someone To Watch Over Me 3:54
A5 Bidin’ My Time 3:00
A6 The Man I Love 3:33

Side Two

B1 How Long Has This Been Going On 3:57
B2 My One And Only 3:11
B3 Lorelei 2:30
B4 I’ve Got A Crush On You 3:47
B5 Summertime 3:30

Allmusic 4 Star Review

With the exception of three songs recorded earlier, this set dates from 1957 and finds the great Sarah Vaughan accompanied by her regular pianist Jimmy Jones plus a studio orchestra arranged by Hal Mooney. Since these 15 selections are fairly concise (two to five minutes apiece), the emphasis is on the melody and the original lyrics without all that much improvising taking place. Vaughan, who had a wondrous voice, is in excellent form on the superior material.

Sarah and Her Remarkable Pipes

Vaughan’s New York Times obituary described her as a “singer who brought an operatic splendour to her performances of popular standards and jazz.”

Fellow jazz singer Mel Tormé said that Vaughan had “…the single best vocal instrument of any singer working in the popular field.”

Her ability was envied by Frank Sinatra who said that “Sassy is so good now that when I listen to her I want to cut my wrists with a dull razor.”

The New York Times critic John S. Wilson said in 1957 that Vaughan possessed “what may well be the finest voice ever applied to jazz.”

Age hardly affected Vaughan’s voice. Her voice was still close to its peak before her death at the age of 66. Late in life Vaughan retained a “youthful suppleness and remarkably luscious timbre”, she was also still capable of the projection of coloratura passages described as “delicate and ringingly high”.

Vaughan had a large vocal range of soprano through a female baritone, exceptional body, volume, a variety of vocal textures, and superb and highly personal vocal control. Her ear and sense of pitch were just about perfect, and there were no difficult intervals.

Vaughan’s vibrato was described as “an ornament of uniquely flexible size, shape and duration,” a vibrato also described as “voluptuous” and “heavy.”

Vaughan was also accomplished in her ability to “fray” or “bend” notes at the extremities of her vocal range. It was noted in a 1972 performance of Leslie Bricusse and Lionel Bart’s “Where Is Love?” that “In mid-tune she began twisting the song, swinging from the incredible cello tones of her bottom register, skyrocketing to the wispy pianissimos of her top.”

Vaughan would frequently use the song “Send in the Clowns” to demonstrate her vocal abilities in live performance, it was described as a “three-octave tour de force of semi-improvisational pyrotechnics in which the jazz, pop and operatic sides of her musical personality came together and found complete expression” by the New York Times.

Though usually considered a “jazz singer”, Vaughan avoided classifying herself as one. Vaughan discussed the term in an 1982 interview for Down Beat:

I don’t know why people call me a jazz singer, though I guess people associate me with jazz because I was raised in it, from way back. I’m not putting jazz down, but I’m not a jazz singer…I’ve recorded all kinds of music, but (to them) I’m either a jazz singer or a blues singer. I can’t sing a blues – just a right-out blues – but I can put the blues in whatever I sing. I might sing ‘Send In the Clowns’ and I might stick a little bluesy part in it, or any song. What I want to do, music-wise, is all kinds of music that I like, and I like all kinds of music.

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