Following her explosive early 1940s spell with Gene Krupa’s band, the first half of the 1950s was a golden time for Anita O’Day. Working with Norman Granz, she made several albums, all with well-chosen material, on which she was backed by top session musicians as well as some of the best West Coast jazzmen of the era. O’Day’s throaty sound, allied with her superior rhythmic sense, are especially suited to uptempo songs where her command is sure and certain, and even when at breakneck speed her articulation is crystal clear. These qualities lend themselves well to scat, and her assurance is notable (although there are very few examples of this here).
All of this might lead to the assumption that she would be less at ease with ballads. Nothing of the sort and it is balladry that makes up the bulk of the repertoire. This was probably at Granz’s insistence, as the 1956 sessions coincide with his work on Ella Fitzgerald’s series of songbook albums. However motivated, O’Day is clearly at ease and happy with the mood. Her understanding of the emotional core of lyrics is always evident and while she makes the songs her own, there is never anything in her variations that does disservice to the writers.
Most notable of all is her phrasing, which is where O’Day confirms her status as one of the top handful of truly outstanding jazz singers in the real sense of that misused term. Her vocal sound is often edgy, a quality especially fruitful on dark songs like Frankie And Johnny.
Another quality is an underlying hint that she sees humour in some of the material even if the theme is serious; Anita’s Blues is an example of this. Although noted for her quicksilver delivery, O’Day is hugely effective on slow-tempo songs, such as the languorous I Didn’t Know What Time It Was and You Don’t Know What Love Is. Whatever the mood, O’Day clearly enjoys all that she does and even when having fun she is never anything less than 100% serious about her singing.
As a glance at the instrumentalists involved here will show, there is a vast amount of talent in support. Among the soloists heard here are Roy Eldridge (t), Paul Smith, Jimmy Rowles (p), Barney Kessel, Tal Farlow (g), Milt Bernhart (tb) and Larry Bunker (vib). The larger ensembles under Buddy Bregman’s direction are crisp, attacking his charts with precision.
Altogether, a very musical reissue. Excellent songs, high standards, and always in the spotlight one of the finest jazz singers of all time captured in her prime. Accompanying the CDs is a long and detailed liner by Paul Watts. For those with O’Day albums already on their shelves, the songs heard here were originally released on the five LPs: Anita O’Day Collates, Songs By Anita O’Day, An Evening With Anita O’Day, Anita and Pick Yourself Up, to which have been added a couple of singles.
CD1: (1) Rock ’N’ Roll Blues; Love For Sale; Lover Come Back To Me; Lullaby Of The Leaves; (2) No Soap, No Hope Blues; The Lady Is A Tramp; Speak Low; Strawberry Moon; (3) Pagan Love Song; Ain’t This A Lovely Day; (4) Gypsy In My Soul; Just One Of Those Things; The Man I Love; Frankie And Johnny; (5 ) Anita’s Blues; I Cover The Waterfront; I Didn’t Know What Time It Was, Let’s Fall In Love; (6) You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me; From This Moment On; You Don’t Know What Love Is; There Will Never Be Another You/Just Friends: (7) Fine And Dandy; Beautiful You (72.14)
CD2: (7) Who Cares?; As Long As I Live; I Fall In Love Too Easily; I Can’t Get Started; A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square; Time After Time; You’re The Top; Honeysuckle Rose; No Moon At All; I’ll See You In My Dreams; (8) Don’t Be That Way; Let’s Face The Music And Dance; I Used To Be Color Blind; Pick Yourself Up; (10) I Never Had A Chance; Stompin’ At The Savoy; Let’s Begin; Sweet Georgia Brown; I Won’t Dance; (9) Man With A Horn; There’s A Lull In My Life; Stars Fell On Alabama (72.41)
O’Day (v) with:
(1) Ralph Burns Orch: Roy Eldridge (t); Bill Harris (tb); Bud Johnson (ts); Cecil Payne (bar); Burns (p, arr); Al McKibbon (b); Don Lamond (d). NYC, 22 January 1952.
(2) Roy Kral Quintet: Kral (p); Earl Backus (g); Johnny Frigo (b); Red Lionberg (d); Jimmy Wilson (bgo). July 1952, Chicago.
(3) Larry Russell Orch: Russell (arr, dir); Andy Secrest (c) and others. Los Angeles, December 1952.
(4) Arnold Ross (p); Barney Kessel (g); Monty Budwig (b); Jackie Mills (d). Los Angeles, 15 April 1954.
(5) Bud Lavin (p); Monty Budwig (b); John Poole (d). Los Angeles, 28 June 1954.
(6) Jimmy Rowles (p); Tal Farlow (g); Leroy Vinnegar (b); Larry Bunker (d). 11 August 1954.
(7) Buddy Bregman’s Orch: Bregman (arr, dir); collectively: Milt Bernhart, Lloyd Ulyate, Joe Howard, Si Zentner (tb); Paul Smith (p, cel); Barney Kessel (g); Corky Hale (hp); Joe Mondragon (b); Alvin Stoller (d); string quartet. Hollywood, 6-8 December 1955.
(8) Paul Smith Quintet: Larry Bunker (vib, bgo); Smith (p); Barney Kessel (g); Joe Mondragon (b); Alvin Stoller (d); Bregman (arr). Los Angeles, 18 December 1956.
(9) Buddy Bregman’s Orch: Bregman (arr, dir); Ted Nash (ts, f); Paul Smith (p, cel); Barney Kessel (g); Dorothy Remsen (hp); Joe Mondragon (b); Shelly Manne (d); string quartet. Los Angeles, 19 December 1956.
(10) Pete Candoli, Conte Candoli (t); Frank Rosolino (tb); Bud Shank (as); Stan Getz (ts); Jimmy Giuffre (bar); Paul Smith (p); Barney Kessel (g); Joe Mondragon (b); Alvin Stoller (d). Los Angeles, 20 December 1956.