Remembering Anita O’Day On Her Birthday

Anita O’Day was in Chicago born 93 years ago today. From my notes for the 2009 O’Day Jazz Icons DVD, this is a summary of her importance:

Anita O’Day was the last of the great female jazz vocalists who emerged in the swing era. She survived Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Peggy Lee and Carmen McRae. She had perfect time and pitch, a voice virtually without vibrato and the ability to swing as hard as the top horn players of her era, which was long. Her feistiness matched her musicianship and she had the respect of her instrumental colleagues, an honor not always accorded singers. O’Day knew with precision what she wanted from supporting musicians. An anecdote circulated after she died in 2006 at the age of 87. She was overheard correcting her drummer. He told her not to tell him how to play. “I’m not telling you how to play,” she said, “I’m telling you when to play.”

Here’s O’Day from a television appearance in Tokyo in l993, performing two of her favorite songs. Pianist Bob Corwin traveled to Japan with her. Drummer Takeshi Inomata, bassist Tatsuro Takimoto and sxophonist Tadayuki Harada were members of the big band that played behind her on the show.

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  1. Rob D says

    Seeing her on the Jazz On A Summer’s Day video singing “Sweet Georgia Brown” was a time stands still moment for me. She gave that song a sexual/sensual energy that stirred me to my

    I enjoyed the documentary that came out a few year back on her. Especially enjoyed her mini put down of interviewer Bryant Gumbel with “That’s just how it went down, Bryant!!” and orginal artist.

  2. says

    Happy Anniversary …”Anita, oh Anita! I feel like blowing…” a heated birthday serenade! ∽ As for the anecdote, there’s a universal question which became proverbial among German jazz vocalists, but only related to drummers who don’t wanna use brushes: “How do I tell my drummer?” ∽ Anita seemed to know how.

    @Ben: Thanks for the tip. Will go for this album.

  3. says

    I played with Anita several times, the last time on a jazz cruise. She was a wonderful singer, but terribly anxious, and she had a tendency to dump her anxiety on her musicians. Made working for her heavy weather, sometimes.

    The first time I heard one of her records, when I was a teenager, I thought she was the hippest thing in the world. I still remember the lyrics to “Ace In The Hole” and “Hi-ho Trailus Boot Whip” from those 78s.

  4. SeptemberintheRain says

    Dear Mr. Bill, I envy you. Anita was one of the chosen few who could really scat (in comparison to, pardon me, Ella ;((((……listen to Nita’s amazing renditions of ‘What is This Thing Called Love’, first (I think) with Will Bradley and Orch. in 1947 and later with Billy May in 59.

  5. says

    Love Anita. Just gonna say that her approach to vibrato is actually much like the classic cornet players. She’d hold a note straight, then add a shake at the end.