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Cool Heat: Anita O'Day in the 1950s

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Welcome to Afterglow, I’m your host, Mark Chilla.

Anita O’Day was a hard-drinking, hard-swinging singer who could turn a song into pure jazz like no other. And October 18, 2019 marks one-hundred years since her birth. It’s hard to sum up a song stylist as unique as O’Day, but the title of her 1959 Verve album does it pretty well: Cool Heat. This week on the program, I’ll focus on the second part of O’Day’s career, after her big band years, when she recorded some of the finest jazz interpretations of the Great American Songbook.

It’s Cool Heat: Anita O’Day in the 1950s, coming up next on Afterglow.

<music - Anita O'Day, "What Is This Thing Called Love?"
<music - Anita O'Day, "Night and Day">

Two songs from Anita O’Day’s 1959 Verve album Anita O’Day Swings Cole Porter With Billy May. The hard swinging O’Day and the rip-roaring arranger Billy May are just a marvelous pair. Just now, we heard her performing an excellent scat solo on Porter’s “What Is This Thing Called Love.” Before that, we heard O’Day having complete command over the rhythm and tempo on a lightning-fast version of the Cole Porter song “Night and Day.”


Mark Chilla here on Afterglow. On this show, my spotlight is on singer Anita O’Day, one of the most significant jazz vocalists of the 20th century. I’ll be featuring her 1950s work on Clef, Norgran, and Verve records.

Anita O’Day was not her real name—she was born Anita Colton on October 18, 1919, 100 years ago this week. She adopted the pseudonym “O’Day” when she was still a teenager performing at dance marathons. She chose it because “O’Day” was pig latin for “dough,” and Anita was all about earning some dough.

She first established herself as an exciting big band singer for Gene Krupa and Stan Kenton in the 1940s, standing out by not simply becoming a mere “canary,” a girl singer at the front of the stage. Anita O’Day insisted on being a full-fledged member of the band. Not only did she perform in the band’s uniform, but she could also swing and improvise as well as anyone in the horn section.

In the late 1940s, after the war, however, the market for big band jazz singers was being edged out by novelty records. Luckily for O’Day, there was record producer Norman Granz. Granz started Clef and later Norgran and Verve Records in the 1950s, creating safe havens for jazz musicians like O’Day to perform the music of the Great American Songbook. In the 1950s, Anita O’Day recorded some of her finest material for Granz’s labels, and that will be my focus this week.

Her first recording for Granz was also Granz’s first recording with a major jazz singer, January of 1952. The session had Ralph Burns arranging and Roy Eldridge playing trumpet, two people that worked with O’Day in Gene Krupa’s orchestra in the 1940s. 

I’ll play a track from that session now. Here’s Anita O’Day in 1952 with the Sigmund Romberg and Oscar Hammerstein song “Lover Come Back To Me,” on Afterglow.

<music - Anita O'Day, "Lover Come Back To Me">

Anita O’Day in 1952, featuring trumpeter Roy Eldridge performing “Lover Come Back To Me.” That song was featured on the Clef Records 10” LP called Anita O’Day Collates.

A signature part of Anita O’Day’s style was her ability to mess with tempo. She’ll start slow, then kick it into overdrive, before slowing down or going out of time completely, and then transitioning into a different swing feel altogether. She usually had a hand in writing her own charts, so it’s likely that this style originated with O’Day herself.

Here’s an example of her doing just this. This recording comes from April 1954, which was a bit of a stressful time for her. O’Day had a bit of a reputation for drug use. She was arrested for marijuana possession in 1947 and again in 1953. In the 1950s, she moved from marijuana to heroin, and was briefly jailed for heroin possession in 1954 (although allegedly, she was framed). After getting out of jail, this recording was made.

Here’s Anita O’Day with Barney Kessel on guitar performing “Just One Of Those Things,” on Afterglow.

<music - Anita O'Day, "Just One Of Those Things">

Anita O’Day in 1954 performing Cole Porter’s “Just One Of Those Things.” That was released on the 1954 10” LP Songs By Anita O’Day for Norgan Records, and later on the Norgran 12” LP An Evening With Anita O’Day.

Here’s another recording from the same year, released on those same Norgran LPs. This is a classic recording for Anita, featuring pianist Bud Lavin, bassist Monte Budwig, and her regular drummer John Poole. It’s her completely personal take on the blues, interjecting phrases like “logical” and “cynical” after her verses.

Here’s Anita O’Day in 1954 performing “Anita’s Blues,” on Afterglow.

<music - Anita O'Day, "Anita’s Blues">

“Anita’s Blues,” Anita O’Day doing her personal, cool take on the blues in 1954, recorded for Norman Granz’s Norgan label.

In 1955, Norman Granz created a third record label called Verve, and O’Day was one of the first people signed. She would record for Verve well into the 1960s (after Granz had left his own label). But we’ll be taking a look at her recordings only up through the end of the 1950s this hour.

Her first recording for Verve pushed her away from small ensemble jazz and more towards a larger band sound. Here, she was working with Verve’s in-house arranger Buddy Bregman, who created some tasteful arrangements for O’Day to shine.

Here’s a recording from that first Verve album, and here Anita updates the lyrics with a few references to current jazz artists. This is Anita O’Day and Buddy Bregman in 1955 with Cole Porter’s “You’re The Top,” on Afterglow.

<music - Anita O'Day, "You’re The Top">

Anita O’Day in December 1955 with Cole Porter’s “You’re The Top,” or should I say “You’re The Bop,” featuring a few name drops of contemporary jazz musicians like Sarah Vaughan, Charlie “Yardbird” Parker, and Lester Young.

Anita O’Day’s next record in the 1950s was a return to form, of sorts. It was a reunion record with her old bandmates of the Gene Krupa Orchestra, the band where she cut her teeth in the early 1940s. In this session, Krupa, O’Day and the gang revisit their old classics like “Slow Down,” “Opus 1,” and O’Day’s first hit with Krupa “Let Me Off Uptown.”

<music clip - Gene Krupa, "Let Me Off Uptown">

That was the original from 1941. I’ll play now their “recreation” of their old hit, which just like the original, features O’Day performing a vocal duet with trumpeter Roy Eldridge.

This is Anita O’Day, Roy Eldridge, and Gene Krupa’s Orchestra in 1956 recreating their 1941 hit “Let Me Off Uptown,” on Afterglow.

Let Me Off Uptown">

Anita O’Day and Roy Eldridge with Gene Krupa’s Orchestra in 1956, and a recreation of their 1941 hit song “Let Me Off Uptown.” That was featured on the 1956 Verve album Drummin’ Man, by Gene Krupa.

Coming up after a short break, we’ll hear more from Anita O’Day in the 1950s. Stay with us. 

***

Production support for Afterglow comes from:

Soma Coffee House and Juice bar, specializing in juices, espressos and Fair Trade Organic Coffee. Serving from downtown at Kirkwood and Grant and on the corner of third and Jordan.  Online at i heart soma dot com

And from Stephen R Miller C P A, in downtown Bloomington at Graham Plaza, offering personal and small business income tax preparation and financial reporting. Helping clients reach financial goals for over thirty years. 8-1-2 - 3-3-2 - 0-5-5-7

I’m Mark Chilla, and you’re listening to Afterglow


Welcome back to Afterglow, I’m Mark Chilla. We’ve been exploring the 1950s recordings of Anita O’Day this hour, in honor of the singer’s centennial this week. 

Anita O’Day is widely regarded as one of the most significant, unique, and musically-adept jazz vocalists of the 20th century. She was not a song interpreter in the traditional sense, more of a song stylist. She once said, quote, “I go for the music more than the poetry of it all.” And O’Day had a way of making the music completely original, turning a song into something entirely novel.

Her second album for Verve Records was called Pick Yourself Up, and featured her pairing up again with Buddy Bregman’s Orchestra. On this album, she performs the old standard “Sweet Georgia Brown,” but it sounds nothing like what you might hear at a Harlem Globetrotters game. Bregman and O’Day create an original arrangement, transforming “Sweet Georgia Brown” into something sultry and smooth.

Here’s Anita O’Day in 1956 with “Sweet Georgia Brown,” on Afterglow.

<music - Anita O'Day, "Sweet Georgia Brown">

Anita O’Day in 1956 performing her original version of the old jazz standard “Sweet Georgia Brown.” That’s from her Verve album Pick Yourself Up.

Anita O’Day’s next album for Verve was recorded early in 1957. It was called Anita Sings The Most, and really it’s just a duet album between O’Day and pianist Oscar Peterson and his trio. Both musicians are at the top of their game on this recording, and seem to be egging each other on with their improvisation skills and lightning-fast tempos.

Peterson is one of the most fleet-fingered pianists around, equally matched by O’Day. On fast numbers like “Them There Eyes,” O’Day demonstrates her command of rhythm by pushing and pulling a phrase so far off its track that it’s dizzying, only to land the next phrase or scat solo precisely on the beat where it belongs, almost with a wink.

Here’s that song now. This is Anita O’Day and Oscar Peterson with their whirlwind version of “Them There Eyes,” on Afterglow.

<music - Anita O'Day, "Them There Eyes">

Anita O’Day and Oscar Peterson’s trio in 1957 performing “Them There Eyes.” That comes from O’Day’s Verve album Anita O’Day Sings The Most.

Anita O’Day was able to recreate those wild, original (and rapid) interpretations both in the studio and live on stage. In 1958, she gave a memorable performance at the Newport Jazz Festival, helping to establish her later career as a live performer. And just a few months earlier, Norman Granz recorded one of her live sets at Mister Kelly’s in Chicago to turn into an album. 

The band here included pianist Joe Masters, bassist Eldee Young, and her regular drummer John Poole. The standout performance here was also her standout performance at Newport, the song “Tea For Two.” O’Day approaches the song like a bebop horn player, abandoning most of the regular melody and rhythm, transforming it into a brand new bebop head. 

Here’s Anita O’Day live at Mister Kelly’s in Chicago with “Tea For Two,” on Afterglow.

<music - Anita O'Day, "Tea For Two">

Anita O’Day live on April 27, 1958 with the Vincent Youmans and Irving Caesar song “Tea For Two,” from her Verve album Anita O’Day at Mister Kelly’s.

O’Day’s follow-up to her Mister Kelly’s album was recorded just a few weeks earlier in 1958, and it was part concept album, part tribute album. It was called Anita Sings The Winners and it was designed as a tribute to twelve of the top “winners” of jazz history and some of their signature tunes. It includes Duke Ellington’s “Take The A Train,” Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night In Tunisia,” Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa’s “Sing Sing Sing,” and Coleman Hawkins’ “Body and Soul.”

I’ll play O’Day’s interpretation of that last song now. Instead of recreating Hawkins’ famous 1939 version of that song, a sprawling improvised solo for tenor saxophone, O’Day similarly uses “Body and Soul” as a vehicle to create her own improvised version. She channels Coleman Hawkins’ spirit, but none of his actual licks.

Here’s Anita O’Day and Russ Garcia’s Orchestra in 1958 with “Body and Soul,” on Afterglow.

<music - Anita O'Day, "Body and Soul">

From the 1958 album Anita O’Day Sings The Winners, that was O’Day with the jazz standard “Body and Soul,” by Johnny Green, Edward Heyman, Robert Sour and Frank Eyton.

By the late 1950s, Anita O’Day’s style was moving further away from bebop and more towards the “cool school.” Tucked between her improvised flights of fancy were scorching ballads, and these were becoming more and more frequent as the years went on. Her 1959 Verve album Cool Heat is the perfect encapsulation of O’Day’s bop energy and smoky coolness. The album featured arrangements by another “cool school” pioneer Jimmy Giuffre, who eliminated piano and de-emphasized the rhythm section to focus on the winds.

Here is Anita O’Day with another Johnny Green and Edward Heyman tune. This is “Easy Come, Easy Go,” on Afterglow.

<music - Anita O'Day, "Easy Come, Easy Go">

Anita O’Day in April 1959 performing “Easy Come Easy Go” from her album Cool Heat. That was arranged by Jimmy Giuffre.

Her final album of the decade paired her up with the swingin’ arranger Billy May, who had worked with Charlie Barnet’s orchestra and with Frank Sinatra on the album Come Fly With Me. May had as much exciting energy as O’Day, so they were a perfect match. Their album together was called Anita O’Day Swings Cole Porter With Billy May. The songs of Cole Porter had always been favorites of jazz players like Charlie Parker to song balladeers like Frank Sinata, so it makes perfect sense that Anita O’Day would give these songs her own idiosyncratic treatment.

Even though the decade winding down, Anita O’Day was just getting started. She would continue to record for Verve into the 1960s, creating more legendary albums including a follow-up album with Billy May, exploring the songs of Rodgers and Hart. But those songs will be for another show. In the end, Anita O’Day recorded over 120 songs in the 1950s, all of roughly equal quality. As I have had to distill these songs down to about 15 notable ones, my apologies if your favorite was left out of this hour that we spend together.

To close off this program, I’ll play two short tracks from this LP. First, here she is performing an arrangement of a Cole Porter she had been working on since the early 1950s, punched up by Billy May for this album.

This is Antia O’Day and Billy May in 1959 with “Love For Sale,” on Afterglow.

<music - Anita O'Day, "Love For Sale">
<music - Anita O'Day, "It’s De-Lovely">

Anita O’Day with”It’s De-Lovely” and  “Love For Sale.” That’s from her final album from the 1950s, Anita O’Day Swings Cole Porter and Billy May.

And thanks for celebrating Anita O’Day’s centennial with me this week on Afterglow.


Afterglow is part of the educational mission of Indiana University, and produced by WFIU Public Radio in beautiful Bloomington, Indiana. The executive producer is John Bailey.

Production support for Afterglow comes from Soma Coffee House and Juice bar, specializing in juices, espressos and Fair Trade Organic Coffee. Serving from downtown at Kirkwood and Grant and on the corner of third and Jordan.  Online at i heart soma dot com

And from Stephen R Miller C P A, in downtown Bloomington at Graham Plaza, offering personal and small business income tax preparation and financial reporting. Helping clients reach financial goals for over thirty years. 8-1-2 - 3-3-2 - 0-5-5-7

Playlists for this and other Afterglow programs are available on our website. That’s at indianapublicmedia.org/afterglow.

I’m Mark Chilla, and join me next week for our mix of Vocal Jazz and popular song from the Great American Songbook, here on Afterglow

anita o'day - cool heat

Anita O'Day's 1959 album "Cool Heat" with arranger Jimmy Giuffre is a perfect combination of her "cool school" ballad style and her "hot" bebop improvisational style. (Album Cover)

Anita O’Day was a hard-drinking, hard-swinging singer who could turn a song into pure jazz like no other. And October 18, 2019 marks one-hundred years since her birth. It’s hard to sum up a song stylist as unique as O’Day, but the title of her 1959 Verve album does it pretty well: Cool Heat. This week on the program, I’ll focus on the second part of O’Day’s career, after her big band years, when she recorded some of the finest jazz interpretations of the Great American Songbook.


From Gene Krupa to Norman Granz

Anita O’Day was not her real name—she was born Anita Colton on October 18, 1919, 100 years ago this week. She adopted the pseudonym “O’Day” when she was still a teenager performing at dance marathons. She chose it because “O’Day” was Pig Latin for “dough,” and Anita was all about earning some dough.

She first established herself as an exciting big band singer for Gene Krupa and Stan Kenton in the 1940s, standing out by not simply becoming a mere “canary,” a girl singer at the front of the stage. Anita O’Day insisted on being a full-fledged member of the band. Not only did she perform in the band’s uniform, but she could also swing and improvise as well as anyone in the horn section.

In the late 1940s, after the war, however, the market for big band jazz singers was being edged out by novelty records. Luckily for O’Day, there was record producer Norman Granz. Granz started Clef and later Norgran and Verve Records in the 1950s, creating safe havens for jazz musicians like O’Day to perform the music of the Great American Songbook. In the 1950s, Anita O’Day recorded some of her finest material for Granz’s labels.

Her first recording for Granz, in January 1952, was also Granz’s first recording with a major jazz singer. The session had Ralph Burns arranging and Roy Eldridge playing trumpet, two people that worked with O’Day in Gene Krupa’s orchestra in the 1940s. The session, which included songs like Sigmund Romberg and Oscar Hammerstein's "Lover Come Back To Me," was included on the Clef 10" LP called Anita O'Day Collates.

O'Day's Innovation

A signature part of Anita O’Day’s style was her ability to play with tempo. An O’Day chart rarely stays steady for its entire duration. She’ll start slow, then kick it into overdrive, before slowing down or going out of time completely, and then transitioning into a different swing feel altogether. She usually had a hand in writing her own charts, so it’s likely that this style originated with O’Day herself.

A recording she made of Cole Porter's "Just One Of Those Things" from April 1954 is a great example of her doing just this. Amazingly, this recording came at a stressful time for the singer. O’Day had a reputation for drug use. She was arrested for marijuana possession in 1947 and again in 1953. In the 1950s, she moved from marijuana to heroin, and was briefly jailed for heroin possession in 1954 (although allegedly, she was framed). After getting out of jail in 1954, this recording was made. It was featured on her first Norgran record, the 10" LP Songs By Anita O'Day.

Verve Records

In 1955, Norman Granz created a third record label called Verve, and O’Day was one of the first people signed. She would record for Verve well into the 1960s (after Granz had left his own label). Her first recording for Verve, the LP Anita O'Day Sings, pushed her away from small ensemble jazz and more towards a larger band sound. Here, she was working with Verve’s in-house arranger Buddy Bregman, who created some tasteful arrangements for O’Day to shine.

Anita O’Day’s next record, Gene Krupa - Drummer Man, was a return to form, of sorts. It was a reunion record with her old bandmates of the Gene Krupa Orchestra, the band where she cut her teeth in the early 1940s. In this session, Krupa, O’Day and the gang revisit their old classics like “Slow Down,” “Opus 1,” and O’Day’s first hit with Krupa “Let Me Off Uptown.”

O’Day was not a song interpreter in the traditional sense, more of a song stylist. She once said, quote, “I go for the music more than the poetry of it all.” And O’Day had a way of making the music completely original, turning a song into something entirely novel.

Her second solo album for Verve Records was called Pick Yourself Up and featured her pairing up again with Buddy Bregman’s Orchestra. On this album, she performs the old standard “Sweet Georgia Brown,” but it sounds nothing like what you might hear at a Harlem Globetrotters game. Bregman and O’Day create an original arrangement, transforming “Sweet Georgia Brown” into something sultry and smooth.

Anita Sings The Most and At Mister Kelly's

Anita O’Day’s next album for Verve was recorded early in 1957. It was called Anita Sings The Most, and really it’s just a duet album between O’Day and pianist Oscar Peterson and his trio. Both musicians are at the top of their game on this recording and seem to be egging each other on with their improvisation skills and lightning-fast tempos.

Peterson is one of the most fleet-fingered pianists around, equally matched by O’Day. On fast numbers like “Them There Eyes,” O’Day demonstrates her command of rhythm by pushing and pulling a phrase so far off its track that it’s dizzying, only to land the next phrase or scat solo precisely on the beat where it belongs, almost with a wink.

Anita O’Day was able to recreate those wild, original (and rapid) interpretations both in the studio and live on stage. In 1958, she gave a memorable performance at the Newport Jazz Festival, helping to establish her later career as a live performer. And just a few months earlier, Norman Granz recorded one of her live sets at Mister Kelly’s in Chicago to turn into an album. 

The band here included pianist Joe Masters, bassist Eldee Young, and her regular drummer John Poole. The standout performance here was also her standout performance at Newport, the song “Tea For Two.” O’Day approaches the song like a bebop horn player, abandoning most of the regular melody and rhythm, transforming it into a brand new bebop head. 

Anita O'Day Sings The Winners and Cool Heat

O’Day’s follow-up to her Mister Kelly’s album was recorded just a few weeks earlier in 1958, and it was the part-concept, part-tribute album Anita O'Day Sings The Winners. It was designed as a tribute to twelve of the top “winners” of jazz history and some of their signature tunes. It includes Duke Ellington’s “Take The A Train,” Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night In Tunisia,” Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa’s “Sing Sing Sing,” and Coleman Hawkins’ “Body and Soul.”

She makes each interpretation her own. For instance, instead of recreating Coleman Hawkins’ famous tenor saxophone solo from his 1939 version of "Body and Soul," O'Day similarly uses the song as a vehicle to create her own improvisation. She channels Coleman Hawkins’ spirit, but none of his actual licks.

By the late 1950s, Anita O’Day’s style was moving further away from bebop and more towards the “cool school.” Tucked between her improvised flights of fancy were scorching ballads, and these were becoming more and more frequent as the years went on. Her 1959 Verve album Cool Heat is the perfect encapsulation of O’Day’s bop energy and smoky coolness. The album featured arrangements by another “cool school” pioneer Jimmy Giuffre, who eliminated piano and de-emphasized the rhythm section to focus on the winds.

Anita O'Day and Billy May

Her final album of the decade paired her up with the swingin’ arranger Billy May, who had worked with Charlie Barnet’s orchestra and with Frank Sinatra on the album Come Fly With Me. May had as much exciting energy as O’Day, so they were a perfect match. Their album together was called Anita O’Day Swings Cole Porter With Billy May. The songs of Cole Porter had always been favorites of jazz players like Charlie Parker to song balladeers like Frank Sinatra, so it makes perfect sense that Anita O’Day would give these songs her own idiosyncratic treatment.

Even though the decade was winding down, Anita O’Day was just getting started. She would continue to record for Verve into the 1960s, creating more legendary albums including a follow-up album with Billy May, exploring the songs of Rodgers and Hart. But those songs will be for another show. In the end, Anita O’Day recorded over 120 songs in the 1950s, all of equally superior quality. 

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