[JPL] The Ultimate Swinger: Anita O'Day, 1919 ­ 2006

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Thu Nov 30 12:08:54 EST 2006


The Ultimate Swinger: Anita O'Day, 1919­2006

Anita O¹Day, the Chicago-born jazz singer as pioneering, skilled and
influential as her most vaunted contemporaries (Ella, Lady Day, Sarah
Vaughn), died at age 87 last week following a bout with pneumonia. Tagged
³the Jezebel of Jazz² and ³the Hip Chick² (she actually trademarked the
latter), Anita was a genius, a brat, a nonstop artist who began singing in
her teens and never quit. She burned down houses with Gene Krupa (scoring a
couple of million-sellers with him circa 1939), thundered with Woody Herman,
spread joy with Stan Kenton. Perpetually restless, she quit every one of
them, finally landing in postwar Los Angeles and establishing herself as a
stylist of depth and dynamism with an illimitable capacity for improvisation
that frequently placed her at the top of Downbeat¹s jazz polls.

By the mid-¹50s, O¹Day launched a stunning series of Verve albums that
presented her in a variety of settings, using everyone from Oscar Peterson¹s
trio to Billy May¹s rampaging big band; each was a masterpiece, showcasing
her untrammeled scat singing and wily, adventurous delivery. O¹Day¹s style
relied on a cool, almost detached mood, an emphasis on melodic, hornlike
phrasing and an open throat designed not to sustain intonation but to propel
the vocal tone itself forward, a big push that rolled from broad, chesty
depths to pristine, crystalline highs. This allowed her phrasing to assume
highly evocative shading and coloration, weaving around and above both
melody and meter. 

O¹day also shot a lot of dope, got busted regularly, did time at L.A.¹s
Terminal Island lockup and nearly killed herself with a 1966 OD. She got
clean (but never lost her taste for hooch or weed) and plowed on, playing
everywhere from the Viper Room to Carnegie Hall, right up until this year¹s
Indestructible album, on which the pipes were shot but the performances were
as brilliant as ever. Anita O¹Day? The ultimate swinger.

A memorial service for Anita O¹Day will be held at Hollywood Forever
Cemetery on Saturday, Dec. 2, at 1 p.m.

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