Review: Anita O’Day by Zena James

Jazz Icons: Anita O’Day (DVD)
by Zena James

As a fan who’s been awaiting the delayed release of Anita O’Day – The Life Of A Jazz Singer on DVD for several months (still no confirmed date for the UK), I was heartened to discover this new footage of O’Day from concerts in Sweden 1963 and Norway 1970. It represents a superb addition to existing footage of one the most inventive female jazz vocalists in history.

It’s well documented that O’Day’s 87 years were riddled with difficult, depressing and remarkably long periods of drug and alcohol addiction, particularly in the fifties and early sixties. Yet this opening 1963 concert in Sweden betrays few signs, except an edginess and mischievousness that could just as easily be attributed to her inherently lively character.

The seven-tune set we’re treated to shows O’Day in top swinging form, full of personality and in total control. Accompanied by her long-term drummer, close friend and narcotics supplier John Poole, Swedish pianist Goeran Engdahl and Polish bassist Roman Dylag, she is highly original, unpredictable and very, very hip.

Opening with a cool, dual-tempo Sweet Georgia Brown reminiscent of her pivotal performance at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, she sets the scene for a concert characterised by often breathtaking phrasing unmatched by most singers of her time. Let’s Fall In Love features a great outro that displays her renowned ability to behave like a horn. A touching version of A Nightingale Sang… is followed by a chorus in 3/4 of Fly Me to The Moon which shifts key down by an unexpected third and into a playful 4/4 up until the very last couple of bars.

An infectious bass and voice Honeysuckle Rose first chorus gives way to a full-on swinger complete with hints of The Best Is Yet To Come and attractive rhythmic pushes. Her rapport with drummer Poole is unmistakable on her top-speed, outstandingly phrased Tea for Two, again reminiscent of but still satisfyingly different to the Newport version she became so famous for.

Seven years later in Norway, this time with a charismatic French rhythm section, O’Day is calmer but no less playful, daring or original. A well-rehearsed segue from a touching treatment of the Beatles’ Yesterday into Jerome Kern’s Yesterdays is followed by a charming spontaneity in a scat over Four Brothers (Giuffre/Hendricks) that keeps the band right on its toes. Sweet Georgia Brown is a master class for any singer in how to communicate with musicians while the closing Tea For Two, albeit slower than in Sweden, is a master class in anticipated phrasing, her absolute forte and an inspiration to aspiring jazz vocalists of today.



The fourth Jazz Icons series consists of seven titles:

• Jimmy Smith • Live in ’69
• Coleman Hawkins • Live in ’62 & ’64
• Art Farmer • Live in ’64
• Erroll Garner • Live in ’63 & ’64
• Woody Herman • Live in ’64
• Art Blakey • Live in ’65
• Anita O’Day • Live in ’63 & ’70
• Series 4 Boxed Gift Set (All 7 for the price of 6-plus an exclusive bonus disc)

Zena James can be heard at the RamJam in Kingston on Wednesday 11th and at the Plough on Northfields Avenue in Ealing on Thursday November 19th.

Categories: miscellaneous

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