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In Part 1 of this article Sony Music announced that it is releasing three complete collections of the best names in modern jazz. The previous article described The Breckers Brothers Collection while this article focuses on the Etta James and Sarah Vaughan Collections.
Etta James – The Complete Private Music Blues, Rock N’ Roll Soul Albums Collection (7 titles, 7 CDs; Private Music/RCA/Legacy)
Born to teenage single mother Dorothy in Los Angeles, Jamesetta Hawkins (1938-2012) was in her late fifties when she began recording for Private Music, one of the most prolific and rewarding associations of her lifetime in music. The liner notes essay written by two-time Grammy Award-winning producer and disc jockey Bob Porter painstakingly and authoritatively rolls out the arc of the singer’s life. Music was her calling, from her childhood on bustling Central Avenue to becoming principal soloist with the St. Paul Baptist Church’s choir, Echoes of Eden, to hearing Billie Holiday and many others at legendary local joints like Club Alabam.
A move to San Francisco led to the start of her first girl group, the Creolettes, and writing one of her first songs in 1954, the suggestive “Roll With Me, Henry,” her answer song to [Hank Ballard and] the Midnighters’ #1 R&B hit “Work With Me Annie.” That song brought her to the attention of R&B bandleader Johnny Otis, who changed her name to Etta James, and Modern Records, who changed her song title to “The Wallflower,” her first #1 R&B hit.
Touring coast to coast with ‘the Otis Caravan,’ Etta was at the center of a blues and R&B vortex that was exploding in the 1950s, and led to Chicago’s Chess Records, where she spent 16 years (1960-76) recording at a steady, prolific pace. “All I Could Do Was Cry” (1960), Grammy Hall Of Famer “At Last” (1961), and “Tell Mama” (1967) were among her more than two dozen chart singles at Chess, even as she battled a crushing heroin addiction.
Into the late ’70s and ’80s, there were records for Atlantic, Elektra, Fantasy, and Island, until she finally landed at Private Music, the last longterm major label affiliation of her life, where Etta thrived as an award-winning jazz and blues vocalist par excellence.
The six albums in this box set focus on the blues-rockin’ side of Etta’s Private Music years, including the Grammy Award-winning Let’s Roll (Best Contemporary Blues Album of 2003) and Blues To The Bone (Best Traditional Blues Album of 2004).
There is a wealth of music here, from her reunion with producer Barry Beckett on 1997′s Love’s Been Rough On Me to the best-selling Life, Love And The Blues , with its bounty of songs by Willie Dixon, Albert King, Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Joe Tex and others. Matriarch Of The Blues explores material by Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Otis Redding, Ray Charles, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Leiber-Stoller’s “Hound Dog.”
Burnin’ Down The House showcased the Roots Band of Mike Finnigan and David K. Matthews on another eclectic program (Dixon, Ellington, Randy Newman, B.B. King and so on). For good measure, the bonus disc rediscovers a live date in San Francisco, recorded in 1981, and released on Private Music in 1994. “And to think,” Porter’s notes conclude, “it all started when she was that chubby little girl with light skin and long curly hair singing with the Echoes Of Eden at St. Paul Baptist Church.”
1. Love’s Been Rough On Me (Private Music, 1997)
2. Life, Love And The Blues (Private Music, 1998)
3. Matriarch Of The Blues (Private Music, 2000)
4. Burnin’ Down The House (Private Music, 2002)
5. Let’s Roll, Grammy Award-winner (Private Music, 2003)
6. Blues To The Bone, Grammy Award-winner (RCA Victor, 2004)
7. Bonus Disc: Live From San Francisco (On The Spot/Private Music, recorded 1981, released 1994)
Sarah Vaughan – The Complete Columbia Albums Collection (4 titles, 4 CDs; Columbia/Legacy)
The very top tier of America’s greatest (and most studied and copied) female jazz and blues vocalists of the 20th century is where Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and ‘Sassy’ Sarah Vaughan (1924-1990) are found. Born in Newark and raised in the church, Vaughan’s voice could have earned her a career on the classical stage. But popular music lured her to different stages, where big bands held sway under the leadership of Earl ‘Fatha’ Hines and (later) Billy Eckstine, Vaughan’s lifelong mentor.
Early 78 rpm records on the old Musicraft label brought her to the attention of Columbia in January 1949, when the earliest session on After Hours With Sarah Vaughan took place, an orchestral date that Vaughan deftly transcended, her jazz chops taking over. The 1955 LP, “at the dawn of the long-playing era,” as popular vocal aficionado Will Friedwald’s notes remind, compiled material from Columbia dates in 1949, ’50, ’51, and ’52, conforming to a template of sorts, “consisting of well-known standards rendered in what jazz fans would have regarded as commercial settings.”
Thankfully, Vaughan also recorded with small jazz combos, most famously the two May 1950 dates which featured Miles Davis and trombonist Benny Green. Those dates (and two others with different orchestral lineups) were culled for Sarah Vaughan In Hi-Fi , her other 1955 Columbia LP, whose first four songs became a litany for every singer: “East Of The Sun (And West Of The Moon),” “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” “Come Rain Or Come Shine,” and “Mean To Me.” (The original 12-song LP turned into a 21-track CD in 1996, with the addition of “Ooh, What’cha Doin’ To Me” and eight alternate takes.)
Some three decades later in 1982, after her career had taken Vaughan to the moon and beyond, she was coaxed into a concert recording at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, with Michael Tilson Thomas conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a tribute to her favorite composers, George and Ira Gershwin. Abundance of riches would righteously describe Gershwin Live! , including the Porgy And Bess medley, two other medleys that cover nine songs, and other selections ranging from “Sweet And Low-Down” and “Fascinating Rhythm,” to ‘The Man I Love.”
Sarah Vaughan’s final LP under her own name, Brazilian Romance , marked her return to Columbia in 1987, for a concept album produced by Sergio Mendes and devoted (mostly) to the songs of Milton Nascimento (who joined her on vocals) and guitarist-arranger Dori Caymmi. A who’s who of jazz players were onboard, including soloists Hubert Laws, Tom Scott, and Ernie Watts.
Friedwald notes, “there was still time to create some Sarah Vaughan classics, such as ‘Nothing Will Be As It Was’ and ‘Photograph.’ Most moving of all is album producer Sergio Mendes’ ‘So Many Stars,’ truly one of the all-time great Vaughan love songs, thanks partly to an expert lyric by Alan and Marilyn Bergman.”
1. After Hours With Sarah Vaughan (Columbia, 1955)
2. Sarah Vaughan In Hi-Fi (Columbia, 1955)
3. Michael Tilson Thomas / Sarah Vaughan: Gershwin Live! (Sony Classical, 1982)
4. Brazilian Romance (Columbia, 1987)
Image Courtesy of sfcamerawork