March 2007

Anita O’Day (10.18.19 – 11.23.06)

I often feel I was born too late. Although I missed the big-band era, I made up for it by singing with my father’s band. I always felt an affinity for the big-band singer’s life, though my experiences were much milder than the rough, wild and edgy lifestyle led by one of my heroes from that era—the great Anita O’Day.

I think all of us “girl singers” today owe her a very respectful bow and a wink for where she took her craft and how she paved her own way through a male-dominated world called “The Road.” My introduction to Anita was via a swing band I took to the road with called The New Deal Rhythm Band.

At the time, I didn’t know that I was learning her licks and singing her biggest hits. Anita’s phrasing was impeccable. And her time! Only a very few can come close to her naturally swingin’ phrasing. You’re either born with it or not. With Anita, it was in her genes. I loved how I could actually hear her smiling in her music. Anita had her demons, but when she opened her mouth—stand back. Her essence lit up everything around her. I can only imagine what it was like to experience her live performance. The stage was on fire, to be sure.

Through personal tragedy then recovery, she was and remains a beacon of true jazz artistry. She was the real deal. Please, all singers: Go back and listen to her beyond the Krupa era. She was an absolute jazz legend who, in my opinion, never got her full due. Anita was one of a kind. Thank God we have her recordings.

I was very fortunate to spend a few precious moments with her last Christmas along with a good friend who invited me to her residence. She was small and quite frail but I could see the spark. Yes, I truly could. There is still much we can learn from her. She bit life in the ass and spit it out with class!

The spark has passed, but take my word for it—she’s still swingin’ up there with the boys! What a band too!

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