"I ALWAYS remembered an album Ella Fitzgerald did with only the backing of pianist Ellis Larkins,” said Teddy Reig, the Roulette Records producer, in his 1990 memoir, Reminiscing in Tempo: The Life and Times of a Jazz Hustler. In 1961 he approached his label’s resident goddess, Sarah Vaughan, with a suggestion. Vaughan was known for her flamboyant vocal fantasias, enacted by pipes that could swoop from dusky lows to soprano highs. With all her technique, she could be like a child set loose in a toy store, trying to grab everything at once. Perhaps out of artistic purism, or perhaps because her orchestral albums were losing money, Reig made a request: “On this next album I want you to sing naked.”

“Are you losing your mind?”

“I just want you without all that jive noise,’ he explained. “Just you and a simple background – whatever you feel comfortable with.”

Thus came
After Hours, a piano-bass session and a rare exercise in minimalism for the Divine One. Sarah + 2 is its sequel. Vaughan recorded it in August 1962 in L.A., joined by guitarist Barney Kessel and bassist Joe Comfort. Kessel had toured the world with the all-star Jazz at the Philharmonic; flashily virtuosic as he was, he also proved a thoughtful accompanist for singers, and Vaughan had a ball with his witty playing. She brings out the funkiness in Baby Won’t You Please Come Home, Bessie Smith’s 1923 hit; and whispers Goodnight Sweetheart, the closing theme of the old Ray Noble dance band, as a cuddly tease. Her singing reaches a peak of beauty in Key Largo, the title song of a 1948 Humphrey Bogart thriller. In the ‘90s, that track showed up on a Honda Acura car commercial. Like the rest of Sarah + 2, it proved that Sassy could shed her crystal plumage and do what Reig wanted her to do: sing naked.