Cooking Chili With Sarah Vaughan

An unforgettable evening with the legendary jazz singer.
  • Transcript


Question: What is the story behind your Sarah Vaughan album cover?

Carol Friedman: Of all the singers, Sarah Vaughan is every singer’s favorite singer, or else they just don’t know. And I was just so happy to meet her, and it was the ultimate compliment and the ultimate moment when she invited me into her vocal booth and closed the door behind her, so I got to hear Sarah sing a capella with her headphones on and she made me bouillabaisse and requested me to do her album cover.  In those days there were no stylists or makeup artists for jazz artists.  It was kind of not fair.  There were budgets for rock and roll, but not for jazz back in that day. And Sarah had, you know, she was a big woman.  She wasn’t petite and it was easy to take an unflattering picture of her.  Let’s put it that way.  So I thought about what I wanted to do and I wanted to do an homage if you will to the Black-gama campaign that Peter Rogers had done, the brilliant Peter Rogers, “What Becomes a Legend Most?” And all of these women legends would have their fur coats and be hugging themselves in the fur coat. So I had that story in my mind to do that and the day came and it was the most exciting day and I asked that she bring her coat and her gowns and everything and she apparently was terrified of having her picture taken, maybe because she had so many bad pictures taken and I went downstairs and she got out of the limousine shaking her head no.  “I don’t feel well. I’m really sick. Let me go home.”  And she hadn’t even come into the building, so I said just come upstairs for a minute.  She came in the door and really like a scared cat said "Bring me a chair," because she didn’t want to go further than right inside the door, so she sat there and she peeked around and saw all the lights and got even more scared and she said, “Oh, please, please, I’ll come back tomorrow. I’ll come back tomorrow.”  And her manager is on the phone saying, “Is she there? Don’t let her leave. She’ll never come back.”  And then out of nowhere she said, “Do you like chili?”  And I said, “Chili as in chili?”  And she said, “Yeah.”  She said she had… Sarah had a great, like a little girl speaking voice.  You know she said, “I’ll come back and cook chili for you tomorrow.”  “Let’s make a shopping list.”  So my set assistant you know chopped me onions, whatever it was that that was on the list and I thought oh, she is tricking herself into coming back to cook for me, whatever.  So I said, “Okay, under one condition. You have to leave your mink coat here.”  And she said, “No Problem. No problem.”  So I took the coat.  I put it in the back.  Walked her downstairs and her driver who was…  Her driver back then was equivalent to people’s kind of advance people and bodyguards now.  You know she knew how to protect herself and he said, “Where is the coat?”  And I said the coat is staying here and he didn’t like that and I said the coat is staying here and then the manager called me about ten minutes later and he said, “Listen, if you want to leave the house tonight you just call me and I’ll send a couple of my nephews over to watch the house.”  So everybody was worried about the coat and she did come back right on time, singing, singing, making her chili in my kitchen saying, “Are you stirring that chili?” while she was having her makeup put on, and it’s a picture I’m really proud of.

Recorded on April 21, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen