Anita O’Day

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Verve Jazz Masters 49

Along with Sussanah McCorkle, I rank Anita O’Day as only slightly behind my supreme jazz vocal triumvirate of Smith, Holiday and Washington; there were some great male singers in jazz, but women dominated the art. This classic compilation, with the selections made by O'Day herself, showcases the unique character of her flamboyant and often exuberant voice, as well as her skills as an improviser, which far exceed those of the other four singers mentioned above. The many classics include the jaunty and very memorable ‘No soap, no hope blues’, poignant ballad performances of ‘When the World was Young’ and ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’, and an incredibly raunchy ‘Waiter, make mine blues’ on which O’Day sounds thoroughly intoxicated and almost certainly was. The overall highlight is ‘Ten Cents a Dance’; the story told in the lyrics does not connect with my life in the slightest, I don’t think, but the emotion hits me every time I hear it.
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Anita Sings the Most

Usually regarded as O’Day’s best, and it’s not hard to see why. She is at the height of her powers on this 1956 album, and is accompanied by the Oscar Peterson quartet, also at the height of their powers. The opening track is an inspired medley, with a breakneck-paced ‘S’Wonderful’ kicking back into a more relaxed and swinging ‘They Can’t take that away from me’. Throughout this track, as well as on other magical performances such as ‘Old Devil Moon’ and ‘Love me or leave me’, her two most distinctive traits are demonstrated to perfection: her ability to rhythmically bend and shift the melody around, in a manner reminiscent of Sonny Rollins, and the shifting and often ecstatic character she injects into the words, thereby using meaning and expression as an extra palette for improvisation. Of the great singers in jazz, O’Day was by far the most sophisticated and advanced improviser. The highlight is the crazy version of ‘Them There Eyes’; taken at a ridiculously fast tempo, O’Day twists the song around this way and that, taking as many chances as the most advanced instrumental improvisers in jazz, and pulling off little miracles every time.
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Incomparable!

This 1960 session with a big band arranged by Bill Holman isn’t without its flaws; the trumpet solos are generally quite second rate, sometimes pretty appalling, the saxophone solos, although generally better, are recorded so badly that it sounds like the players are in another room behind a closed door, O’Day’s performance of ‘Speak Low’ doesn’t come off at all, and ‘Slaughter on Tenth Avenue’ is just plain annoying. However the opening track is surely the definitive version of ‘It could happen to you’, which is a great tune at the worst of times, but is here treated to perfection and becomes a masterpiece (you have to overlook the pathetic, wasted opportunity of a trumpet solo); other unforgettable classics include ‘Blue Champagne’, ‘If I love again’, ‘Can’t we be friends’, ‘Why Shouldn’t I?’, and a kicking ‘Avalon’.