A talented jazz diva’s voice can take listeners back to a smoky 1950s nightclub where women in diamond-studded dresses sipped on chilled margaritas next to gentlemen in all-black suits begging for a dance. Toronto-based singer Delilah does that and more on her new EP, Sarah + 1: A Tribute to Sarah Vaughan. Delilah’s album pays homage to the influential jazz singer while keeping things a bit modern with her sultry voice and complementary arrangements.
Vaughan was a legendary African-American jazz singer from the mid 20th century. Her big break came when she won a talent contest at the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem at the age of 18. She first worked with bandleaders Earl Hines and Billy Eckstine before starting her own solo career that intermixed pop and jazz.
Interestingly, the best example of Delilah’s talent on this EP comes on “Smile”, the track that signifies the “+1” in the album’s title. It’s a song taken from Charlie Chaplin’s 1936 movie “Modern Times” covered by countless numbers of jazz performers over the years. Delilah’s inclusion of “Smile” is a welcome addition that doesn’t feel tacked on, but is a bonus bit of sweetness that fits the EP’s tone nicely.
When it comes to covers in general, singers often will either replicate the arrangements the original performers used, or will stray so far from the original that it’s hardly recognizable. Delilah’s approach shoots for a middle ground, siding more with the original feel. It’s a choice that works on some songs better than others. Listen to Delilah’s version of “September in the Rain” next to Vaughan’s, for example, and there’s no comparison — Vaughan’s version has much more personality and style.
But, on “Just Friends,” Delilah’s take makes the track feel like it’s her own creation. The same can be said for “Whatever Lola Wants”, perhaps the best track on the album thanks to her silky smooth vocals that take command from the start and don’t let go.
Delilah has sung jazz songs nearly her whole life and it shows. Born in Budapest, Hungary, by the age of 10, she and her family were part of a 20-member touring ensemble, Bongo Margit. At 16, she and her elder sibling Paul Lakatos were playing with Sonny Walker, a Roma legend who played regularly with her family in impromptu jam sessions at their home.
In the end, Sarah + 1 shows off Delilah’s strengths and does what a real EP should — whet your appetite and leave you wanting a little more.