I had not heard of Ann Hampton Callaway before her audacious 1999 recording To Ella With Love, but I’m glad I took a chance on that disc. Ella led me eventually to Ann’s superb show at the Blue Note Jazz Club in New York when I stopped over on my way to Israel in June 2007, and then to the rest of her recordings. There is no arguing about taste, but in my view she is the foremost living practitioner of the Great American Songbook.
Ann graciously consented to a telephone interview in advance of her two shows at the Dakota Jazz Club and Restaurant in 2008. It was a memorable experience. Ann is one of the most articulate people I have ever spoken with and a passionate proponent of the Great American Songbook, describing herself as “a keeper of the flame.” I wrote up my interview with Ann in “In praise of Ann Hampton Callaway.”
Ann’s new disc is another audacious and beautiful tribute, this one to Sarah Vaughan, aptly titled From Sassy to Divine: The Sarah Vaughan Project. I’ve been listening to it on Rhapsody this week. Like Ella, it’s a labor of love full of the musicality and creativity that distinguishes Ann’s work. Here is a good write-up on the project. A propos of the Sarah Vaughan project, Ann told me back in 2008, “We need performers in every generation to maintain our legacy,” such performers being the practical advocates of “the songs and the artists who have made a mark on our consciousness.”
Is this enough of an excuse to say that of the Sarah Vaughan recordings with which I am familiar, my favorite is her magnificently beautiful I Love Brazil! on Pablo, produced with his usual loving care by Norman Granz? I think the Brazilian setting and the Brazilian songs and the Brazilian musicians elicited something special from Vaughan. The video below features her singing “Like a Lover (Cantador)” accompanied by Dorival Caymmi, the song’s composer (with Nelson Motta, the English lyrics are by Alan and Marilyn Bergman). You may be familiar with the old Sergio Mendes version of the song, which wasn’t bad. However, the song never sounded quite this good, either before or after Miss Sarah had her way with it. Please check it out.