Sunday, September 07, 2008

Anita O'Day

I saw a terrific documentary about Anita O'Day today called ANITA O'DAY–THE LIFE OF A JAZZ SINGER
part 1 of her wikipeda biography:
Anita O'Day (October 18, 1919 – November 23, 2006) was an American jazz singer. Many place her among the greatest female jazz singers in a group that includes Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Carmen McRae, Sarah Vaughan, Abbey Lincoln and Betty Carter.
Born 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.
O'Day, 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 Miles Davis. She 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 others).
O'Day 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: [1] 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").
O'Day's 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.
O'Day's 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".
Born in Chicago, Illinois, O'Day left home at age 12 and began her career two years later in 1934, touring the Midwestern United States as a marathon dance contestant and singing "The Lady in Red" for tips. In 1936, she left the endurance contests, determined to become a professional singer. She started out as a chorus girl in such Uptown venues as the Celebrity Club and the Vanity Fair, then found work as a singer and waitress at the Ball of Fire, the Vialago, and the Planet Mars. At the Vialago, O'Day met the drummer Don Carter, who introduced her to music theory and whom she married in 1937. Her first big break came in 1938 when Down Beat editor Carl Cons hired her to work at his new club at 222 North State Street, the Off-Beat, which quickly became a popular hangout for musicians. Also performing at the Off-Beat was the Max Miller Quartet, which backed O'Day for the first 10 days of her stay there. While performing at the Off Beat, she met Gene Krupa, who promised to call her if Irene Daye, his current vocalist, left his band. In 1939 she was hired as vocalist for the Max Miller Quartet which had a stay at the Three Deuces club in Chicago.

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