EuroArts // 2010 // 56 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // May 6th, 2010
"I'd like to add his initial to my monogram,
Tell me, where is the shepherd for this lost lamb?" -- Sarah Vaughan, Someone to Watch over Me
In a career that spanned five decades, Sarah Vaughan was a pioneer, an innovator, and one of the most notable singers in the history of jazz. She had a voice like no other, with an amazing range that reached emotional heights that few could match. In Sarah Vaughan: The Divine One, part of the Masters of American Music television series, her prodigious talents are described in loving detail. Through interviews and concert footage, we catch a glimpse of both sides of the singer: the artist and the person.
Sarah Vaughan started performing in clubs long before she was old enough to enter them, and got an early break with an Amateur Night appearance at the Apollo Theater. It so happened that the one and only bandleader, Billy Eckstein, had come in that night to cash a check. While waiting, he went into the theater and was floored by the talent of this little girl with a massive voice. As the story goes, so a career began. Over her career, she worked with nearly all the giants of jazz, from Dizzy Gillespie to Charlie Parker to Art Blakey, and that's just from Eckstein's band! In this short documentary, we hear from some of these giants; they speak at length on the legacy of Sarah Vaughan the performer, and their memories of Sarah Vaughan the woman.
The footage is edited together to give a general, though not strict, chronological timeline to the documentary. From the early days, we hear from Ada Vaughan, Sarah's mother. She recalls the artist learning the church organ as a child, and the first time she heard that her daughter was singing and playing in smoky bars. Billy Eckstein, who snatched Sarah up when he started his first band, discusses in glowing terms her immense talent and her influence in the evolution of be-bop. Others remember the rougher side of the singer, the side that loved to be one of the boys, to drink and cuss and gamble after the shows. They make her sound like an awful lot of fun. Her daughter, Paris, lends the most insight into Vaughan's later years as the singer struggled to continue her career in an industry that had chosen sizzle over steak; its insistence on marketable ages and faces kept her from achieving some of her final career goals.
There's nothing revelatory in Sarah Vaughan: The Divine One but, as usual in the Masters of American Music series, the program is informative and entertaining. Anybody with a cursory knowledge of jazz will already know a lot of the stories, but they can still revel in Sarah Vaughan's voice. Luckily, there's no shortage of performances, with archival footage of her singing "I've Got a Crush on You," "Send in the Clowns," and many more. There is nothing salacious in the program and it never tries to cut down the singer's legacy. Nor does it present Vaughan as some kind of saint. It's a nicely balanced piece that moves swiftly and paints a solid portrait of the artist.
The disc from EuroArts is handsomely packaged, but is otherwise a bare-bones release of only average quality. The documentary is filled with footage cobbled together from so many sources that there's no hope for a consistent image, but there are few transfer errors and it performed as well as I expected. The sound is similar, with a dual-speaker mono track that has a moderate amount of noise, but is relatively clear throughout. There are no extras.
Not essential, but not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 56 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Wikipedia: Sarah Vaughan