Anita O’Day 1919-2006

at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958

I’ve always liked Anita O’Day’s singing. It’s just recently though that I’ve been really listening to her work more closely.

In her early days, as a teenager, she do the dancing/walking marathons. This was mostly around Chicago. Lord Buckley was one of the MCs and they were friends. He encouraged her. In her book she says “…Dick Buckley was very rhythmical and he took a special interest in my singing.”

Later, in 1954, she got to hang out with Charlie Parker in Detroit. She was at the Flame show Bar and Bird was playing at the Crystal Lounge. She says that they hoped to do an album together and that Parker told her “you come from the same branch of the tree as I do when it comes to time.” Eight months later he was dead.

O’Day did have a wild sense of time, she could really sing. she attributed part of her sound to losing her uvula in a tonsillectomy when she was a child.  She developed her own style, leaning into the song and swinging.  She wasn’t as concerned with “selling the melody.”  She’d usually sing most of the words but sometimes she’d be singing them very fast

She loved Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday’s singing as well.  They both really influenced her.  She performed with the Gene Krupa band.  She had some famous duet numbers with trumpeter Roy Eldridge.

She had some wild times too, as detailed in her book 1981 High Times, Hard Times and the documentary film Anita O’Day The Life of a Jazz Singer. The film includes candid interviews with her discussing her career and life.  It also has a lot of clips of her singing,  There are also a lot more clips of her performing on the bonus disc of the DVD.

Eventually, she “cleaned up” and got off the drugs and alcohol.  Despite health problems, she got it together and was still singing and performing at the end of her life.  I’m looking forward to exploring her work.

Interview:

http://www.npr.org/programs/jazzprofiles/archive/o’day_a.html

The film:

http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20081008/REVIEWS/810089993

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/anita-oday-425721.html

http://jazztimes.com/articles/25117-the-life-of-a-jazz-singer-anita-o-day

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