singer Anita; “The Jezebel of Jazz”; Scatter Anita;
Jazzy Anita; Anita of jazz; Jazz vocalist Anita
2 times a year
O'day 'Sweet Georgia Brown' Live Performance
knew I didn't have any chops, but I also knew I had a lot of
~ Anita O'Day
O'Day (October 18, 1919 – November 23, 2006) was an
American jazz singer. Jazz Critic Will Friedwald has said “When
you think of the great jazz singers, I would think that Anita is
the only white woman that belongs in the same breath as Ella
Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan.”
Anita Belle Colton, O'Day was admired for her sense of rhythm and
dynamics, and her early big band appearances shattered the
traditional image of the "girl singer". Refusing to
pander to any female stereotype, O'Day presented herself as a
"hip" jazz musician, wearing a band jacket and skirt as
opposed to an evening gown. She changed her surname from Colton
to O'Day, pig Latin for "dough," slang for money.
along with Mel Tormé, is often grouped with the West Coast
cool school of jazz. Like Tormé, O'Day had some training
in jazz drums (courtesy of her first husband Don Carter); her
longest musical collaboration was with John Poole, a skilled jazz
drummer whose career was severely curtailed by his heroin habit.
While maintaining a central core of hard swing, O'Day's
considerable skills in improvisation of rhythm and melody put her
squarely among the pioneers of bebop; indeed, a staple of her
live act in the 1950s was a smooth cover of "Four" by
cited Martha Raye as the primary influence on her vocal style,
although she also expressed admiration for Mildred Bailey, Ella
Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday. O'Day's soft, slightly raspy alto
voice bore a strong resemblance to that of a saxophone. That
unique sound, combined with her strong percussive drive, allowed
her to utilize her skills in scat singing to meld seamlessly into
jazz orchestras as a wordless instrument; her cover of Woody
Herman's "Four Brothers" is an excellent example.
Another key example of her improvisational skills and rhythmic
surety is her cover of "Them There Eyes" with Canadian
jazz pianist Oscar Peterson; the song is laid out at a furiously
fast tempo, but O'Day pushes the lyrics out at full speed for one
chorus, scats another at a Cannonball Adderley pace, then
playfully paraphrases the lyrics at half-tempo for her last
chorus. O'Day's song interpretations typically reflected a sly,
playful sensibility (see, for example, her cover of "An
Occasional Man" with Cal Tjader's band, a much more
sex-kittenish interpretation than that of Peggy Lee, among
always maintained that the accidental excision of her uvula
during a childhood tonsillectomy left her incapable of vibrato,
as well as unable to maintain long phrases. That botched
operation, she claimed, forced her to develop a more percussive
style based on short notes and rhythmic drive. However, when she
was in good voice she demonstrated surprising skill at stretching
long notes with strong crescendos and a telescoping vibrato, e.g.
her stunning live version of "Sweet Georgia Brown" at
the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, captured in Bert Stern's film
Jazz on a Summer's Day. Noteworthy is that one can hear on her
records that her prominent upper teeth sometimes lead to her
articulation of the "B" and the "P" as a "W"
(f.i. Sweet Georgia "Wrown").
cool, backbeat-based singing style was strongly influential on
many other female singers of the late swing and bebop eras,
including June Christy, Chris Connor and even less jazz-oriented
performers such as Doris Day.
long-term problems with heroin and alcohol addiction and her
often erratic behavior related to those problems earned her the
nickname "The Jezebel of Jazz".
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