Before & After: Sachal Vasandani

IMG_0003Before & After

Sachal Vasandani

by Larry Appelbaum


With the release of his third recording, Hi-Fly (Mack Avenue), Sachal Vasandani continues his inevitable transition from rising star to established headliner. Like many singers of his generation, he’s studied and assimilated the past while keeping up with current developments inside and outside of jazz. For this session he gnawed on fresh fruits throughout and chose to listen to each track in its entirety before offering reactions or sharing insights. Still, he couldn’t stifle his occasional yeas and grunts of appreciation.


Gregory Porter

“God Bless The Child” (from Be Good, Motema). Porter, vocal. Recorded in 2011.

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Before & After: Tuck & Patti

For this 2004 JazzTimes B&A, Tuck (Andress) and Patti (Cathcart) sat close to one another on the edge of the bed in their hotel room; Tuck cross-legged, Patti dangling her legs and occasionally touching the floor with her feet in rhythm to the music. In between selections, Patti told stories about nervously meeting Carmen McRae (“my heart)” for the first time, and how Mahalia Jackson “answered all my questions” with her music. We started with a classic to break the ice.

1. Sarah Vaughan
“Sophisticated Lady,” from After Hours (Roulette). Vaughan, vocal; Mundell Lowe, guitar; George Duvivier, bass. Recorded in 1961. Continue reading

Before & After: Kurt Elling

photo by Larry Appelbaum

Kurt Elling sat for this JazzTimes B&A one winter afternoon just before his 2004 New Year’s Eve show at the Kennedy Center. We began by listening to one of his favorite singers.

1. Mark Murphy
“Charleston Alley” (from Jazz Standards, 32 Jazz). Murphy, vocal; David Braham, piano;
Harry Leahy, guitar; Gerry Niewood, sax; Ted Curson, trumpet; Ed Caccavale, drums; Larry Killian, percussion. Recorded 1984, reissued 1998.

I love everything about the way Mark approaches all this Lambert, Hendricks & Ross stuff, and I know this recording really well. The thing about vocalese is that by its nature it has a tendency to be re-creative in a way. I mean, you’ve copped somebody’s solo or arrangement or whatever. But Mark comes on with his personality and his own musical identity so strong that it recreates a vocalese in a way that is totally Mark, and in a way that I have a real hard time imagining anybody else really accomplishing. It’s a completely unique artistic thumbprint. I mean, Jon [Hendricks] writes the grand lyric and performs with such a stately and magnificent representation of that which he’s apprehended. Then Mark comes on and he doesn’t need three people or a choir or whatever to do it–it’s just Mark and it’s totally whack, and it’s a totally new experience again. I’ve always thought that’s one of the greatest ways that Mark displays his ingenuity. Because he’s not hindered by the intricacies of somebody’s solo, and he can even recreate that and cast it in his own image.

Have you ever talked with him about this?

Mark doesn’t really take compliments very easily. You have to catch him in the right mood and be in the right place. And this [interview] is an ideal opportunity because I think he probably takes a lot more stuff in from what he reads. We’re friends and I know he’s been very generous about my thing and coming on the road with me and trusting me. It humbles me and makes me want to live up to that trust. I love talking about great singers. I hope you don’t give me any tragic ones [laughter].

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Before & After: Jane Monheit

Jane Monheit wears her musical heart on her sleeve. Maybe it’s because she’s passionate about the music she loves and sings. Or maybe it’s because she’s a hopeless romantic, still basking in the glow of her recent marriage to drummer Ricky Montalbano. In any case, the 26-year-old singer was eager to sit and listen and talk on a beautiful autumn day, while her band did their sound check for that evening’s performance at the Clarice Smith Center at the University of Maryland. Unlike some musicians who can be frustratingly reticent or enigmatic, Monheit enjoys conversation and is both insightful and unfailingly polite when discussing her fellow singers. Only once was she less than articulate-when she heard Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” with orchestra arranged by Vince Mendoza, she welled up with tears and finally admitted she could not find words to adequately express just how much Mitchell’s music means to her. Because we had such a limited amount of time, we jumped right in.

1. Ella Fitzgerald
“Looking For A Boy,” from Pure Ella (Decca Jazz). Fitzgerald, vocal; Ellis Larkins, piano. Recorded in 1950.

Before: Oh, I know this. [sings along]. This is the record with Ellis Larkins, right? This is one of my favorite sides of Ella. I loved when Ella kept it simple. Her voice was so beautiful and so pure and I really tried to learn that lesson from her. These records were such an excellent example for me when I was trying to pare things down and really get to the bottom of the music, rather than worry about vocal gymnastics. And Ella, who could do anything she wanted, made these gorgeous recordings where she was really thinking about the melody. I just love the way Ellis accompanies her, too. They’re both so well suited to each other that they can interpret the tune exactly the way they want to and it’s still a perfect fit. I love the recording they did together of Stardust.

What makes this timeless?

The lyrical content and the beautiful melody. I’d much rather listen to this than hear her wail with a big band, though I love that too. This is something I aspire to. It’s a challenge to just sing the melody. For her to make the choice to stick to the melody-that’s a really powerful thing when it comes from a woman who could do absolutely anything.

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