Best Anita O’Day Songs: 20 Vocal Jazz Masterpieces

Anita O’Day had one of the most distinctive voices in jazz history. O’Day made 16 wonderful albums for Verve Records between 1956 and 1964, but she rose to prominence by singing with Gene Krupaswing group in the early 1940s. O’Day’s spectacular appearance in 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, captured on an award-winning film, made her voice known around the world. By the end of her career, she had worked with some of the biggest jazz stars of the 20th century.

Although her career has at times been overshadowed by her tumultuous and dismal private life – she was sometimes referred to as “The Jezebel of Jazz” – she is best known for her magnificent voice. “When I sing, I am happy. I do what I can do and it is my contribution to life, ”she once said. Here is our introduction to Anita O’Day’s best songs.

Listen to Anita O’Day’s best songs on Apple Music and Spotify.

The hoarse-voice innovator

Anita O’Day was born Anita Belle Colton in Kansas City on October 18, 1919, a daughter of Irish parents. After joining a Chicago dance troupe as a teenager, she took to singing and adopted the stage name that made her famous. She later revealed that she took the last name O’Day because “in pork Latin, that was slang for dough,” and the money was something she hoped to save. hand on. A lasting legacy from his childhood were the effects of a surgeon accidentally cutting his uvula during a tonsillectomy at the age of seven. Without that teardrop-shaped piece of soft tissue, O’Day had a hard time keeping long notes. This is something she’s been working on developing her own raucous-toned style. “I am not a singer; I’m a songwriter, ”O’Day said in 1989.“ I’m not a singer because I don’t have vibrato. If I want one, I have to shake my head to get it. That’s why I sing so many notes. This is how I got my style.

As she showed on her lavish versions of “Love for Sale” and “Come Rain or Come Shine” – from the beautiful album Anita O’Day sings arrangements by Jimmy Giuffre – she has become an expert in weaving melodic lines with song lyrics. She also said she learned the dynamics of what to do with a composition – a technique she always called “shading” – by observing up close the inflections of Dave Brubeck on the piano when he was a musician on the piano. home to the Black Hawk nightclub in San Francisco.

It’s no surprise that one of her main vocal inspirations was Billie Vacation. Like the singer known as “Lady Day”, O’Day was also able to bend and stretch lyrics in a sultry way. O’Day once said that the most enjoyable album she ever made was 1961. Trav’lin ‘Light, a tribute album to his idol Holiday. The record, which features a bubbly version of “Miss Brown to You,” starring Ben Webster on tenor saxophone, showed off her remarkable sca singing skills, something she later explored on songs such as “Them There Eyes “, recorded with Oscar Peterson and guitarist Herb Ellis in 1957.

Fortunately, even fans of 21st century music can enjoy footage of O’Day’s scenic prowess while watching the famous documentary. Jazz on a summer day. O’Day, wearing white gloves, a black and white dress and a matching wide-brimmed hat, was confident and charismatic as she reinvented “Sweet Georgia Brown” with effortless vocal agility. “The film made me a star singer in Japan and paved the way for international tours,” recalls O’Day.

The perfect voice for jazz bands

“She was a wild chick, okay, but how could she sing,” drummer Gene Krupa said of O’Day. After falling out with Benny Goodman, who disliked the way he improvised, O’Day joined Krupa’s group in 1941. Although she had a rocky personal relationship with trumpeter Roy Eldridge, they fell apart. are musically mixed in a special way. Their duo “Let Me Off Uptown” provided Krupa with his first major success as a conductor. The track features a scintillating trumpet solo, right after O’Day urges it to “blow, Roy, blow”. Krupa’s band have produced over 20 great songs, including “Opus One”. O’Day later described the thrill of mingling with Krupa’s famous friends like actress Lana Turner. “On stage, it was a team, and it was very pleasant. In fact, the 1940s were the best time of my life, ”she recalls.

O’Day was then able to choose the best jazz sidemen for his solo projects, including saxophonist Zoot Sims. In 1961, he played on a version of Horace Argent“Señor Blues” from the album Verve All the sad young men. A year later, she showed her daring by choosing innovative backing musicians when she recorded with the Latin quartet and bop of vibraphonist Cal Tjader, for the album Verve Records. Time for 2. One of the highlights was his rendition of Dave Frishberg’s satirical classic “Peel Me a Grape,” a song later picked up by Blossom Dearie. O’Day and Tjader also made a sweet Latin-infused version of “Mr. Sandman.”

One of his favorite accompanists in the 1950s and 1960s was guitarist Barney Kessel who performed on five of his Verve albums. On the 1958 album with the couple, Anita sings the winners, O’Day sang a cheerful version of “Peanut Vendor”, a song recorded by Louis armstrong. O’Day was a huge fan of the trumpeter and described the jam with Armstrong and flautist Herbie Mann at Madison Square Garden in 1963 as one of the happiest moments of his career.

A fantastic song picker

Anita O’Day was one of the most imaginative performers of the great American songbook. His dreamlike version of “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square,” written in 1939 by Manning Sherwin and Eric Maschwitz, features a skillful orchestration by Buddy Bregman. Another Treat, from O’Day’s 1956 Verve album Pick up with Anita O’Day, is his interpretation of Johnny Mercer’s song “I’m With You”. Two other top notch covers are his versions of “Honeysuckle Rose” by Fats Waller and Billy strayhorn‘s “Take the’ A ‘train.”

As well as picking up classics from great male lyricists, O’Day was always thrilled to showcase female songwriting talent. She particularly liked Bernice Petkere, a woman described by Irving Berlin as “the queen of Tin Pan Alley”. On his 1953 album Verve Assemble, O’Day reunited with trumpeter Eldridge for a haunting version of Petkere’s “Lullaby of the Leaves”.

A tumultuous life

Anita O’Day has lived a tumultuous and painful life. She has at times put her melancholy into touching versions of sad songs, including her version of the country music classic “Tennessee Waltz,” which was a hit for Decca Records when she recorded it with Jack Pleis’s Orchestra in 1951. She also had success with “And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine” a year later, when she recorded a version with the Stan Kenton Orchestra. It was around this time that O’Day’s personal life started to spiral out of control. The singer had served a prison sentence in the 1940s for possession of marijuana, and by 1954 she had fallen into what she called “the quicksand” of heroin addiction.

In his captivating and heartfelt memoirs of 1981, Highlights Difficult times, O’Day recalled her time in prison for heroin use and how, in 1969, she nearly died of an overdose. “All the people from years ago, they were all drugged,” she said.

O’Day has also had an eventful love life. Her first marriage to Don Carter was called off and a second, to Carl Hoff, was dissolved. She has channeled her emotional despair into her music and among her most moving songs are her searing versions of heartbreaking ballads such as “You Don’t Know What Love Is” and her own co-written composition “Waiter, Make Mine Blues”.

Larger than life personality

One of Anita O’Day’s most popular songs was “Tea for Two”. In addition to performing the 1924 classic by Vincent Youmans and Irving Caesar during his Jazz on a summer day performance, she also recorded a quick release for her brilliant live album Anita O’Day at Monsieur Kelly, recorded for Verve in Chicago in 1958.

O’Day was known for her ability to direct a scene and she refused to conform to stereotypes about the supposed appearance of big band singers. She wore pinstripe jackets and suits instead of strapless evening dresses. His lively personality also caught the attention of Hollywood. She had a cameo role in the Robert Duvall / Karen Black film The clothe and also starred in the 1970 film Zigzag, which included a score by Oliver Nelson. In 2007, a year after her death at the age of 87, she was the subject of director Robbie Cavolina’s biopic. Anita O’Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer. “One day, I asked Anita what jazz is and she replied:” It is to have the ability to improvise, to invent as you go and to be good at it. this area, ”Cavolina said. “She has lived her life one hundred percent for music.”

In late 1996, the year she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Endowment for the Arts, O’Day fell down the stairs of her California home after binge drinking. alcohol and broke his arms. “The Scotch brought me in,” she admitted with characteristic candor. Despite this, she bounced back and continued to sing for the next decade. Fans who saw her towards the end, performing at Hollywood’s Vine Street Bar & Grill, praised her magnificent versions of Duke Ellington’s songs. “In this world, you only have what you give,” O’Day said, “and that’s what I do: I give myself to my audience.”

Think we missed one of Anita O’Day’s best songs? Let us know in the comments below.

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Grace D. Erickson