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,
You keep on going anyway.
Sometimes without shoes,
Sometimes without light.
Two Kinds of Tenderly
It was love at second sight
For both of them
The music was always first, last
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
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.