Sarah Vaughan – At Mister Kelly’s (1957): Review

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Produced by Bob Shad
Label – EmArcy

By 1957 Sarah Vaughan was a more than respected jazz singer with a string of successful recordings, most of which were set with the backing a full orchestra. A week long booking at a relaxed Chicago night spot (Mister Kelly’s), would give fans and listeners the opportunity to enjoy Vaughan’s sassy contralto in a more intimate setting. Her crack instrumental trio would assist the singer as she ran through a leisurely set of handpicked standards. With Jimmy Jones on piano, Richard Davis on bass and Roy Haynes on drums, the backing is resolutely restrained to allow Vaughan full license to confidently deliver the necessary vocal swank of a true star.

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Everything is recorded in one take and even includes a moment where the singer knocks over her microphone stand and fluffs lines on two of the nine song set, but with incredible assurance she overcomes these minor setbacks with aplomb. On completely forgetting the lines on the closer (“How High The Moon”) she quickly launches into an impromptu scat which keeps the audience compelled and highly amused. Centre stage is Vaughan’s vocal, pitch perfect, richly melodic and highly imaginative when she needs to improvise. She captivates the audience with highlights that include the exquisite “September In The Rain”, the melancholic tones of “Willow Weep for Me”, and the sensually assured “Honeysuckle Rose”. A reissue in 1991 would include further recordings from the live performances and provide some decent previously unheard songs.

Although the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holliday are continually revered as the leading female jazz vocalists of the era, spare some time for the dynamic voice of Sarah Vaughan and you’re bound to be affected by her considerable talents. Hanging your hat at Mister Kelly’s is a great place to start.

8/10

Track Rating
1 – September In The Rain (9)
2 – Willow Weep For Me (8)
3 – Just One Of Those Things (7)
4 – Be Anything But Darling Be Mine (8)
5 – Thou Swell (8)
6 – Stairway To The Stars (8)
7 – Honeysuckle Rose (8)
8 – Just A Gigolo (7)
9 – How High The Moon (6)

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