Songs We Love: Sarah Vaughan, 'Fascinating Rhythm'

Apr 28, 2016

There are masterpieces of the studio, and certainly Sarah Vaughan left plenty of those behind. But the really crushing exhibitions from jazz musicians of her caliber come nightly, in clubs and concert halls, tossed off so repeatedly and seemingly casually that any given tune in any given set reeks of talent. Throw a dart at any one moment and there's probably something there.

So how about the evening of May 31, 1978, at Rosy's Jazz Club in New Orleans, after her scat solo on "Fascinating Rhythm"? That thing when pianist Carl Schroeder pauses the action for a Baroque-ish interlude, straight outta 1750, and Vaughan joins in the schtick, breaking into wordless operatic signifiers with complete control but also a folksy accent? And then she launches back into the song form at full tilt and goes back to words for the last A section, riding roughshod over the bar line, smushing it all together like "once-it-didn't-matter but-now-you're-doing-wrong-when-you-start-to-patter-I'm-so-unhappppyyy"? And then resets to knock out that grand finale? And how that all happens in, like, under two minutes?

We know all this because NPR actually recorded it for a program called Jazz Alive!, hosted by the late Billy Taylor. And now that set of music, also featuring bassist Walter Booker and drummer Jimmy Cobb, has been unearthed and commercially released on a two-CD set called Live At Rosy's.

"Fascinating Rhythm" is one of her many standard repertoire warhorses, generally done at either breakneck tempo or as slow as possible, that Vaughan essayed that night with such impromptu brilliance. It starts more or less normally, with a straight melody statement (plus cheeky introduction and comping from Schroeder) and a vocal improvisation that's plenty swinging already. But once she initiates that final sequence, you can only shake your head and smile.

Live At Rosy's is out now on Resonance Records.

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