Whenever I listen to Sarah Vaughan, I find myself ‘hooked’ to her enormous palette of vocal colors and her ingenious harmonic variations. One of my all time favorites by the divine Miss Vaughan, is “I Feel Pretty” – a song by Leonard Bernstein, taken from her album Live at The Tivoli in Copenhagen in the sixties.

The song starts as a waltz, very decently, and after one chorus the band begins to groove in swing, to end the tune in the original ¾ feel. Sarah captures me with her unrivaled variations. The audience goes wild. Don’t you just love the energy of live recordings? It’s as if you are present. A live album is like a little time capsule.

That voice. That conviction. That band. The togetherness. The dedication. The energy. It makes you want to be able to vary as beautifully as Sarah does… doesn’t it? Wouldn’t you love to be able to alter the melody in such an elegant and sophisticated way, while still controlling your sense of time and your pitch, articulation and sound? But how?

You can start with one word. It’s as easy as that.

Let’s start by singing the words to the original melody I Feel Pretty: g, b, c, e over a C6 chord.

Now, we will work on the word ‘pretty’. Very slowly add: I feel pre-e-e-etty on g, b, e, e flat, d, d flat, c, while accompanying yourself on piano. First play these notes, then repeat them singing. When you know your line by heart, you can gradually adjust the timing, speed up a little bit until you’ve reached the normal tempo of the song. In this way, you will practice your chromatic lines, your intonation and your timing. It’s great when all these aspects come together. And isn’t it FUN!

Record yourself, to make sure you study the right lines. By the way, this is one of the most important tips I can give you: always record yourself, be it audio or video; the lessons it provides are priceless. (Noooo, is that really me? Or, yaaaaaay, I nailed it!)

And if you’re hungry for more songs by Sarah Vaughan, here’s my album tip for you: Sassy Swings The Tivoli (Mercury Records, 1963). Enjoy!

With love, Ilse

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