Learn How

We need your help in 2018

Support All About Jazz All About Jazz is looking for 1,000 backers to help fund our 2018 projects that directly support jazz. You can make this happen by purchasing ad space or by making a donation to our fund drive. In addition to completing every project (listed here), we'll also hide all Google ads and present exclusive content for a full year!


Who's The Hippest Chick In Town? Anita.

Rob Mariani By

Sign in to view read count
Anita took it just a little further. Instead of just being sexy, it was sexy/funny. And of course always very musical.
Who the hell shows up at a midnight jam session at the Loews Sheraton Theater in Greenwich Village wearing white, elbow-length gloves, a little, flowered print dress and a hat that looks like an inverted birdbath? Who dares to show up on stage like that where guys like Zoot Sims and Conte Condoli and Al Cohn are playing? And then proceeds to not merely hold her own on the scat vocals, but to actually kick some ass up there?

Blond, blue-eyed, sultry-voiced Anita, that's who. Anita O'Day. The "girl singer. The one who grew up in front of the Gene Krupa band where she learned to go way beyond "perky and to trade eights and fours with even the wildest drummers and with the hippest trumpet players, like Roy Eldridge, and to re-phrase even the most tried and true lyrics in a whole new, hip new way.

The first night I saw her, in 1959, she was just hitting the top of her game, breaking out from the structure of the big band and really exploring her freedom with a small backup group. The trio started off the set with a run-you-off-the-road, up-tempo treatment of "Them There Eyes. After about four choruses, Anita strode out onto the stage, the big blue eyes peeking out from beneath the big white hat, looking like she'd just come from a garden party in Connecticut. She hit her mark in the center of the trio, dropped her weight back onto her heels and fell instantly into the groove. She never slurred or mispronounced a word, even at that speed. Oh, she twisted them, she bent the lyrics around her gloved little finger. But she never flubbed a lyric, never blew a syllable. I thought I'd heard every version of "Honeysuckle Rose. It's an old song. But in Anita's hands, it was all new.

And her treatment of "Star Eyes —well, the lyrics just seemed to melt in her mouth. That was the other thing about her. Although she was very feminine, I didn't really think she was particularly sexy, until I heard her sing that song. Something about the way she placed a note somewhere in the middle of her throat and in back of her tongue vibrated in a way that just went right into your libido and said, "Hello there, big boy.

I went to hear her with her trio again a few months later at the Half Note. It was the perfect size room for her, although she had the ability to turn even a huge outdoor amphitheater into a smoky little bistro. Once again, up there above the narrow bar, there she was with the gloves and the hat. Black this time to match her little black cocktail dress. All she needed was a silver martini cocked in one hand and a long cigarette-holder in the other to make a Vogue cover shot.

Movie star props aside, she was—and of course, still is—a consummate musician. Her bebop version of a vibrato is about as hip as a singer can get. Chris Conner and June Christy were doing it too. But Anita took it just a little further. Instead of just being sexy, it was sexy/funny. And of course always very musical.

Anita O'Day has outlasted just about everybody else from her era. I have no idea how old she is now but I heard her on a new CD recently recorded live in a club in L.A. and, though her voice has grown noticeably deeper and huskier, her phrasing and her time feeling are as sharp and crisp as ever. And just as hip. That's the very first thing anyone would ever say about Anita O'Day. She is one very hip chick.


comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read The Great, Late Show with Dakota Staton First Time I Saw The Great, Late Show with Dakota Staton
by Rob Mariani
Published: November 17, 2006
Read Betty Carter Remembered First Time I Saw Betty Carter Remembered
by Dee Dee McNeil
Published: May 13, 2006
Read Betty Carter: Along Came Betty First Time I Saw Betty Carter: Along Came Betty
by Rob Mariani
Published: May 13, 2006
Read Does Anybody Here Remember Joe? First Time I Saw Does Anybody Here Remember Joe?
by Craig M. Cortello
Published: April 26, 2006
Read Coda For Elvin First Time I Saw Coda For Elvin
by Rob Mariani
Published: April 2, 2004
Read "Siena Jazz International Summer Workshop" Live Reviews Siena Jazz International Summer Workshop
by Bruce Lindsay
Published: August 8, 2017
Read "Mary Ellen Desmond: Comfort and Joy Concert 2016" Live Reviews Mary Ellen Desmond: Comfort and Joy Concert 2016
by Victor L. Schermer
Published: December 17, 2016
Read "Stuttgart Jazz Open 2017" In Pictures Stuttgart Jazz Open 2017
by Jean-Francois Kalka
Published: July 20, 2017
Read "Dwight Sills: Creating His Own Space" Profiles Dwight Sills: Creating His Own Space
by Liz Goodwin
Published: January 14, 2017
Read "Real World Records' Vinyl Reissues" Multiple Reviews Real World Records' Vinyl Reissues
by Nenad Georgievski
Published: September 16, 2017

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!