Sophisticated Lady: The Duke Ellington Songbook by Sarah Vaughan

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Legendary jazz producer and label owner Norman Granz sold his Verve label to MGM during 1962. A little over a decade later he founded Pablo Records and signed such artists as Ella Fitzgerald, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Art Tatum, Count Basie, and Sarah Vaughan. During its 15 year existence, Pablo would release 350 albums by many of the leading jazz artists of the day.

Sarah Vaughan released two albums of Duke Ellington material for the label in 1980. Now those two albums, Duke Ellington Songbook One and Duke Ellington Songbook Two have been resurrected into one release titled Sophisticated Lady: The Duke Ellington Songbook Collection. Also included as bonus tracks are six previously unreleased performances.

The music is presented in chronological order by recording date. This means that the six bonus tracks, from the August 15, 1979 session, are the first tracks on the two-disc collection. The six tracks, arranged and produced by Benny Carter, are not outtakes but completely different versions of what appears on the Ellington Songbook releases. All the tracks are backed by strings and horns, which form a full background for her vocals. Highlights are a poignant “Lush Life,” a soaring “Sentimental Lady,” and a controlled “Tonight I Shall Sleep (With A Smile On My Face).” Through it all the saxophone play of Zoot Sims sets the mood.

The material from the two albums runs the gamut from sparse accompaniment to a full band and orchestra. The three tracks from the January 23, 1980 session feature the backing of only pianist Mike Wofford and guitarist Joe Pass. It allows the focus to be squarely on Vaughan’s vocals. “Prelude To A Kiss,” “Everything But You,” and “I Ain’t Got Nothin’ But The Blues” allow her to explore the textures of each song.

Vaughan gives mellow performances on such tunes as “Mood Indigo,” “I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good),” and “Solitude.” She harps back to the big band era with her cover of “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing).”

The sound from the original Pablo masters has been enhanced, plus there is a booklet that gives the history of each session.

Sophisticated Lady: The Duke Ellington Songbook Collection is a nice trip through the music of a by-gone era where the voice of jazz master Sarah Vaughan combines with the legacy of Duke Ellington.

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