'The Man I Love' Sarah Vaughan (EmArcy Records 1957)

Producers talk about the rich sound quality captured in recordings from earlier eras, the warmth of the sound that now seems lost in the digital files, keeping this in mind take a minute to listen to this jazz standard, notice the openness of the sound, the way it begins.

(This music makes me nostalgic for a Sunday night double-bill at the Astor theatre in Melbourne, where I would watch films from the 1950s, in black & white, sometimes falling asleep to be jolted awake at certain moments, as a tattooed Robert Mitchum, or a dewy-eyed starlet forced us to recognise the purity of their craft).

What I love, and I really do, about Vaughan's delivery is the way she plays with contrasts: the way her singing has both the distinctive wavering vowel sounds that she made her own ('playing with the melody') and then how she brutally cuts words short, so abruptly. There's a majesty to Vaughan's performance, where she plays with our desire to hear the sound, being played out/extended and then refuses us. And yet, despite the genius of her technique, Vaughan allows a definite feeling to come though - a kind of sweet-hearted yearning that never ceases to affect me.

All of this reminds me of this piece of music and performance that also touches me (just listen to that amazing beginning) :

Compare the Sarah Vaughan version with the rendition by Billie Holiday 

what you sense with Holiday's version is that she is telling a story - describing something logical - in contrast, when Sarah Vaughan sings it is as if she is embodying the feeling, she has become the emotion.

Vaughan runs the words together unexpectedly, without caring about making it something we can understand (all those things the man she loves will do for her, or with her: 

He'll build a little home
Just meant for two
From which I'll never roam
Who would? Would you?

are only symbols in her imagination) but we can feel her longing. This makes the music so touching, but also so sad as if the entire song is little more than an expression of her imagination, 'one day he'll come along ...' 

This song could be the final whisper of a woman in a shelter: 

And when he comes my way
I'll do my best to make him stay

And when he comes along ...

He'll look at me and smile
I'll understand
And in a little while
He'll take my hand
And though it seems absurd
I know we both won't say a word

Vaughan's ability to express strong feeling, or break it down to its purest form - to the level of sound rather than narrative - is what impresses me so much, alongside that velvety cadence of hers that breaks my heart each time I hear this music.

Here's another version with a kind of nursery rhyme beginning:


(From 1938)