On December 16 and 18, 1954, Sarah Vaughan recorded what remains her most definitive work of the 1950s. Known today simply as Sarah Vaughan (EmArcy), the album featured Clifford Brown on trumpet, Herbie Mann on flute, Paul Quinichette on tenor sax, Jimmy Jones on piano, Joe Benjamin on bass and Roy Haynes on drums. The arranger was Ernie Wilkins. [Photo of Jimmy Jones, Sarah and Clifford Brown by Herman Leonard]
The session was recorded at the Fine Sound Studio in New York's Great Northern Hotel on 56th St. The studio was founded by C. Robert Fine [pictured], Mercury's legendary head engineer. Back in the early 1950s, Fine used a minimalist single-microphone monaural recording technique that produced highly dimensional results, which is why the album's fidelity remains superb in all its LP and CD incarnations.
Produced by Bob Shad, the two sessions
weren't meant to generate an album. Instead, Shad intended to release the tracks on extended play 45-rpms, with one song on each side. Each vinyl 45-rpm would come in its own miniature cardboard jacket with photos and liner notes. It was a marketing strategy used in the early 1950s by labels to capitalize on the new smaller format and gain access to jukeboxes.
Once the Vaughan dates were completed, Shad set about packaging the songs on EP's, each with its own title and cover art. The four EP's were: Sarah Vaughan (with Jim on the A side and He's My Guy on the B side); The Divine Sarah (April in Paris backed by You're Not the Kind); Sincerely, Sarah (with Embraceable You and I'm Glad There Is You on the flip side); and Lullaby of Birdland (featuring Lullaby of Birdland and September Song).
For some reason, It's Crazy was the odd song out and wasn't released until many years later, which always puzzled me. Based on my research yesterday, it turns out Shad had planned to release It's Crazy as the A side with I'm Glad There is You on the B side. But at the end of the December 18 session, there was studio time left on the clock. A look at the matrix numbers from the date shows that the masters were captured that day with a relatively low number of takes compared to the December 16 session, which required many more.
So Shad had Sarah and just her rhythm section record Embraceable You to finish the date. The other musicians at the session were dropped, presumably to minimize the risk of false starts and performance errors that would demand additional takes and time. One look at the Embraceable You matrix number says it all: Just one take was needed for the master.
Clearly, the playback was so startling that Shad decided to drop It's Crazy and pair Embraceable You with the equally penetrating ballad I'm Glad There Is You. It's Crazy was left in the can. Which was exactly the right call, given the quality of Embraceable You's execution.
Years later, when all the tracks from these two sessions were combined on a 12-inch LP and then various CDs, most listeners bypassed Embraceable You, focusing instead on Lullaby of Birdland or You're Not the Kind. But after giving Embraceable You about 15 listens yesterday, I find that the song is one of the date's finest efforts and most overlooked tracks.
Embraceable You is Sarah's first trio-only recording with Jimmy Jones [pictured], who just months earlier had replaced pianist John Malachi as the vocalist's accompanist. Jones' work on this track is sublime. You can hear him anticipating Sarah's every move, releasing lush chord changes and filling in Sarah's breaks with relaxed, feather-light lines. Jones also gets a chance to stretch out 2:21 into the song, when Sarah steps away to give her trio a vocal-free chorus.
Listen for Jones' chord clusters just before Sarah returns. He cascades down with the same beautiful idea four different times prior to Sarah's soaring re-entry. And dig Roy Haynes' [pictured] dramatic brushwork here. His mix of sensitivity and percussive pushing throughout is terrific. This is a fabulous sleeper track on an album you probably already own but haven't heard in some time. Reach for the CD and put on Embraceable You.
JazzWax tracks: Sarah Vaughan has been released numerous times over the years, most recently in 2000. Embraceable You and the rest of the album is available as a download at iTunes and Amazon. Or you can buy the CD here, choosing from a range of domestic and imported releases.
JazzWax video clip: To see Sarah sing Embraceable You in the mid-1980s, go here. Sarah includes the song as part of a Gershwin medley. Be sure to listen carefully during her intro to But Not for Me. At 0:46 into the song, she does a pitch perfect run up that will knock you out. Also, notice how rich and deep her voice is here. The YouTube notes say the clip was recorded in Stamford, CT, and that it comes from a DVD that you can purchase by clicking on the link provided.