Monday, November 7, 2011

wacky tacky icons: Anita O'Day

Anita O'Day
(October 18, 1919 - November 23, 2006)

"Body and Soul"

Anita O'Day was a junky.  I read an excerpt from her autobiography that detailed the time her heroin dealer told police that O'Day suffered a heart attack in the ladies' restroom to cover up the fact that she had actually overdosed while mainlining.  Fortunately, the story had a happy ending and O'Day not only survived but managed to resurrect her career from the hopelessness of addiction, anonymity, and bankruptcy.

She was hep to the jive.

O'Day exemplified wacky tacky in every phrase of every song she ever performed.  She could turn a corny, novelty number into something equally hilarious, timeless, and danceable.  She had the timing of a comedian, the phrasing of a poet, and the jive of a jazz musician.  She turned the prevailing notion of a girl singer on its ear.  She was one of the boys and her voice was equal to any horn in the band.  

She was still a bit of a glamour-puss.

She is probably best known for her work with Gene Krupa and their musical relationship gave birth to some of my favorite recordings.  Her voice, at once harsh and mellow, was compelling.  She was a consummate storyteller and never let a lyricist down.  Here are but a few examples of her genius.

"How Come?"

"Let Me Off Uptown"

"And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine"

While she rose to fame in the big band years, I am inclined to believe that she felt most accomplished later in her career.  Having overcome much adversity, she came into her own as a jazz vocalist.  Years of struggle could be heard in her voice but it only added to her ability to relay the story behind the song.  She sang more ballads and explored her range both vocally and emotionally.  She toured the world and received much more individual recognition than she ever had on Krupa's bandstand.  I love her recordings from the early 40's and I equally appreciate her later recordings for completely different reasons.  Her early work makes me want to dance and get groovy while her later work is more thoughtful, introspective and even sultry.  Even a traditionally-rousing song like "Sweet Georgia Brown" under the treatment of Miss O'Day could cast a spell.

"Sweet Georgia Brown"
Live at The Newport Jazz Festival


Mr. Tiny

No comments:

Post a Comment