Sarah Vaughn/Gabrielle Daniels

 

 

The Duets with B
(Sarah Vaughan and Billy Eckstine)


Discovery is a journey best shared

With another, over and over again,

Concluding from where they began

At the Apollo, deeply resonating

And with deeper gratitude

 

Fresh terrain, even in a different key,

Can sometimes be illusory
But the quality rich in a bond
Of interpreting yearnings and hungers

Assuaged or disappointed
Never tepid and never searing
Within those standards and songbooks

Reliving attractions and conquests,

Joining and then parting
Of both Sassy and B
Friends unbroken from youth

Through highs and lows
For forty-seven years

 

 

Holding onto Fools

Send in the Clowns

 

Almost at the finish line

With this last second wind performance

Never bothered by smoke or strain
Or even age, that leveler of all

Great divas, cued for the end.

 

Never a small-town girl,
Her rich renditions have been masks
Not confessionals for fools.
Personas painted,

Embroidered, embellished, or borrowed
Even with the fan of peacock feathers,

Presenting—over and over—
The genius we already knew that she was

Until they fell away, collapsed
On the ground,

Leaving her breathless

 

What did she want, truly,

And what did we get?
Every day, beyond the limits of

Entourages, audiences, children,

Lovers and friends rushing
To keep up, with her voice

Setting up her good times,

The period and
The comma of it,
Singing and being in love,

Singing and loving and

Singing and being loved,

At any price, even pushing

Real love away
In boredom.  
Not knowing

What was real anymore.

 

To be high, always in mid-air,

Is tempting Fate.
Sweating out the good stuff,

But leaving in the bad.
Even if you know that
You’ve picked the wrong door,

No apologies.
You keep on going anyway.

Sometimes without shoes,

Sometimes without light.
Weightless.

 

Two Kinds of Tenderly


It was love at second sight

For both of them
The music was always first, last

Everything.

He was not always

Coming towards her, he was
Not even hovering.  He was just there

At the right time, when she flowered.
For her, George became the music made flesh

He enters the song with his horn, but his full

Big Band was more than just accompaniment.

They were like mash notes telling us
Of the new territory she had traversed
With George, over which the top-heavy strings

Layered and nearly overpowered the reeds

And the brass giving the lie to her voice.

 

And her voice was surprisingly deep,  

A burnished contralto, it was said, even
A female baritone, as if she tried to translate maturity

From those late nights as No ‘Count Sarah
Hanging with the boys, like Dizzy and Bird

Drinking and smoking life into that phrasing.

When all her young life from 15
Onwards was work.Learning her craft

Straight from the musicians
—the Daddies—themselves.

 

There was no lipstick for a church girl,

Or sneaking the wrong color on her lips

That hardly complimented her.
She had no clue. She wasn’t even a girl then,

Her youth arrested, like a half note.
Careless, with a cigarette burn on

The back of her first evening dress
The boys bought for her first tour dates

Heedless, like a baby puking formula on

Their first good clothes
The music made her a woman

For just that moment on the bandstand.

A moment of smoke and steam,

Illumined and climaxed,
Until she stepped away

From the mic.

 

Come 1958, she speaks in a short film,

Revisiting her first solo hit, and I don’t

Recognize her voice, coming from that
Little woman. It was younger. How many takes

did the director ask for Sassy to get over
Her stage fright and sing?

By now, she has had enough
Of smoke masking for breath
She is divorcing George, breaking

The spell of music to transform her.

 

George who straightened her teeth,

Bought her clothes and took her

For unaccounted-for millions.
A manager for a husband or a lover

Is a pattern that she will repeat for
The rest of her life.   She wanted the money

Near, and her loves nearer,
They came and went just the same.

Learning little from never singing a song

In the same way again.

 

There is no Big Band orchestra.

There is Cool Jazz, bare and direct
Stripped down, naked, unlike her gaze

That goes around the world and zig-zags
And she blinks, shy of the camera that follows

And doesn’t miss a thing. Her eyes searching,

It seems, for a focus, even from within.
Or perhaps, for her new man
To reassure her.

This version of the song

Is still slow danceable enough
For bodies to come together
Cheek to cheek, even in a tight space,

On purpose for the Fifties, but

It’s almost too slow, as if one
Is dragging a partner on the floor 

Exhausted, for a prize.

 

She’s with her trio:
The same personnel that may have

Accompanied her at Mr. Kelly’s.
The vibratos are less flamboyant, yet

Accomplishing the work of the violins that lied

Only hinting at soaring divinity this time,
As Garroway called her. Her phrasing was

Muted, but deliberate,
As if each word was truth

And once upon a time, it was.
 

 

 

 

 

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