The story of Pablo Records is a story of one veteran producer’s return to the music he loved best. Norman Granz, founder of Jazz at the Philharmonic, so missed the recording aspect of the music business — which he’d abandoned in 1962 when he sold his Clef, Norgran, and Verve labels to MGM — that a little more than a decade later he decided to take the plunge and start up yet another label. Based in Beverly Hills, California, at the time, Granz secured a distribution deal and launched Pablo Records in 1973, quickly building a world-class catalog of albums by legendary artists Ella Fitzgerald, Joe Pass, and Oscar Peterson — all of whom Granz managed — as well as Count Basie, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Tatum, Sarah Vaughan, and many others. After releasing more than 350 albums in a span of less than 15 years, Granz sold Pablo to Fantasy in 1987, which in turn merged with Concord Records in 2004 to form Concord Music Group.
Recorded between August 1979 and January 1980, Sophisticated Lady: The Duke Ellington Collection is a two-disc set that features six previously unreleased recordings along with classic tracks originally from Vaughan’s 1980 albums of Duke’s music, Duke Ellington Song Book One and Duke Ellington Song Book Two.
“What makes this reissue especially significant,” says Tad Hershorn, archivist at the Rutgers University Institute of Jazz Studies and author of the collection’s liner notes, “is a rare confluence of what I have come to think of as ‘late breaking history’ and late-breaking news: this collection is both. In this case, it is the inclusion of six previously unreleased recordings of arrangements by the peerless Benny Carter which opens this collection of the Vaughan-Ellington recordings, presented chronologically by recording date.”
The six Carter-arranged tracks — “Sophisticated Lady,” “In a Sentimental Mood,” “Lush Life,” Solitude,” “Day Dream,” and “Tonight I Shall Sleep (With a Smile on My Face)” — include what Hershorn calls “a lush orchestral backdrop” of big band and string arrangements, along with shining solo work by Zoot Sims on tenor saxophone. “These are not alternate takes. They are recordings of entirely different arrangements of the songs than those that were released on the original Ellington Songbook albums,” says compilation producer Nick Phillips. “It’s fascinating now to not only hear, for the first time, each of these six newly discovered arrangements and recordings and appreciate them on their own merits, but also to be able to compare and contrast the very different arranging approaches to the same songs.”
Regardless of the song arrangements, one fact about Sarah Vaughan remains perfectly clear while listening to Sophisticated Lady: “She’s one of the greatest jazz vocalists of all time,” says Phillips. “Her singing throughout this collection certainly underscores that.”