Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger detected sensual subtext pouring out of these sultry singers.
If he is big and strong
When I reviewed Passport Video's Count Basie: Swinging at His Best, I was put off by certain annoyances, such as persistent watermarks, incongruent packaging, and other "quality of life" issues that colored the performances. Like the Count Basie: Swinging at His Best DVD, Sarah Vaughan and Other Jazz Divas is a collection of public domain pop jazz tunes recorded for television (or film). This time, the DVD presentation is classier and more restrained, which increases its entertainment value.
Unfettered by watermarks and other disruptions, the selections in this DVD form a string of thematically related pop jazz diva performances. Each song is a gem waiting for the viewer to uncover it, to behold its subtleties and nuances. Hindsight is 20-20, so there are no flat performances in the lot. Each song is delivered in a heartfelt performance by a queen of bebop. Sarah Vaughan gets the most screen time, but Lady, Billie, Lena, and Dorothy are no slouches. From wry amusement to heartfelt soul, the songs on this disc run the gamut of emotion.
Of course, some of these songs are completely free of nuance, bordering on the ribald. "My Heart Belongs to Daddy" is perhaps the most obvious, with Dorothy Dandridge entertaining a host of "Daddies" until she gets flustered by the whole affair. But it is hard to overlook Dorothy's other number, "You Do Something to Me." She starts out wearing a chaste fur coat, singing solemnly to a lone gentleman. By the time the number wraps, Dorothy is leaping around in a primal boogie wearing a dress slit all the way up to her navel, showing her legs and drawers to the world while a horde of men pursues her. Taken together, these two songs suggest that Dorothy Dandridge was a spicy gal.
But ribald is not the main groove; most of these songs are classy, sultry jazz numbers with a show-tune vibe. These are not quiet, intimate performances, but large-scale productions with full orchestras and large audiences. In some cases, the songs were culled from television variety shows. The net effect resembles a showcase of early music videos.
The variety of sources leads to variety in audiovisual quality. Perhaps the most treasured performances on this disc are the pair of songs with Billie Holiday and Count Basie. The same footage was included on Count Basie: Swinging at His Best, and I found it the technical doldrums of a generally low-quality disc. Nothing has changed—Billie still looks like a grainy blur of light against a dark background. Nonetheless, it is a look at an enduring jazz legend in her prime. The rest of the numbers on this disc are smoother and more detailed, possibly because some of them were shot for movies. The lone exception is Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra's duet "Can't We Be Friends," which is plagued by comical amounts of edge enhancement. It looks as though someone traced around the singers with a thick white crayon. This was probably done to improve early-era television footage.
Aurally, the disc is acceptable. The music is masked by a gentle rain of pops and hisses, but that's the nature of the game with public domain footage. There weren't any ear-splitting sonic bursts, and it was easy enough to listen to the music, so you'll be able to enjoy these gifted voices. The songs included are:
• Sarah Vaughan—"Hot and Cold Running Tears"
All told, this disc presents a pleasant slate of pop jazz tunes with no frills. From Ella's bemused poise to Dorothy's erotic antics, there should be at least one tune that strikes your fancy.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Passport Video
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