Indestructible. There is really no other word to describe Anita O’Day. Her legacy in
the world of music goes back to the mid-30s as a singing-dance
competitor in the popular walkathons of the day—that is, until a truant
officer returned her to school. When asked her name, she answered
“O’Day,”pig Latin for dough. Which she hoped to make a bunch of. She
was soon discovered by a club owner in Chicago, and within a year
destiny would guide her right to the top as the lead singer for the
Gene Krupa Orchestra. Anita brought to the big band her own swinging
style. She had no use for gowns; she was a member of the band who’s
instrument was her voice, so she donned the same uniform that the other
band members wore—a suit. She stayed with Krupa’s outfit for five
years, then after one year with Stan Kenton, scoring numerous hits for
both. She began her solo career in 1947.
Her vibrant appearance in the 1959 documentary "Jazz on a Summer's
Day," a film about the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, made her an
international celebrity and brought her important dates in Japan and
Then, in 1966, she nearly died of a heroin overdose in a
bathroom in a Los Angeles office building. The experience rattled her,
and she quit heroin at once. Most of her money gone, she spent the rest
of her life struggling financially.
In the early 1970s, she was
living in a $3-a-night hotel in Los Angeles but she revived her career
over the next decade, culminating in a profile of her on the CBS
newsmagazine "60 Minutes."
She received her first Grammy
nomination in 1990 for "In a Mellow Tone" and was given an American
Jazz Masters award in 1997 by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Anita will forever be remembered for the clingy black dress, fringed black hat and white gloves that she wore in the film. Ironically, she later candidly confessed that she had absolutely no recollection of her performance at Newport. Years of alcohol and drug abuse robbed her of many things including the memories of her most prosperous years. Still, she survived the needle, the bottle, two rotten marriages, depression, and dire financial straits, continuing to perform (though often precariously) well into her 80's.
Here is a nice video tribute to Anita, which includes a segment of her performance of "Sweet Georgia Brown" from Jazz On A Summer's Day.
Here is a young Anita performing "Thanks For The Boogie Ride" with the Gene Krupa big band in 1942. Roy Eldridge is the trumpet man.
This is the classic performance of "Tea For Two" from Jazz for A Summer's Day. The old timers might recognize the old Marlboro cigarettes jingle that pops up at the end, as Anita trades phrases with her pianist. (You get a lot to like in a Marlboro - filter, flavor, flip-top box)
On a cold winter's night Chicago in early 1936, record producer John Hammond patiently spun the radio dial in his car, searching for music. His exploration of the airwaves resulted in his discovery of the Count Basie Orchestra, broadcasting live from the Reno Club in Kansas City. The band was rough and occasionally out of tune, but their energetic playing and solid, swinging rhythm section thrilled Hammond. He immediately told his friend Benny Goodman about his discovery, and the two of them made plans to visit Kansas City and hear the band in person. Upon meeting Basie, Hammond convinced him to take his band on the road, and made arrangements for Basie to begin an engagement at the Grand Terrace Ballroom in Chicago.
But Hammond did not get a chance to record the Basie orchestra for another three years, for Jack Kapp, the shrewd president of Decca Records, met with Basie -- without Hammond's knowledge -- and offered him a recording contract. Heartbroken and angry at the paltry sum that Kapp offered Basie, Hammond insisted that at least some of Basie's men owed him a recording session. Basie agreed, and brought a quintet consisting of himself, drummer Jo Jones, bassist Walter Page, trumpeter Carl "Tatti" Smith, and tenor saxophonist Lester Young into a cramped Chicago recording studio on November 9, 1936.
The studio was so small that in order to fit a piano, the musicians, and portly singer Jimmy Rushing all in the same room together, Jo Jones could only bring his high hat cymbal stand and snare drum. But under Hammond's direction, the group turned out four astounding performances in a date that Hammond later described as, "the only perfect, completely perfect recording session I've ever had anything to do with."
Because Basie was under contract with Decca at the time (though he had yet to record for them) these records were released under the name "Jones-Smith, Inc.", a play on Jo Jones and Carl Smith's last names. On subsequent reissues and foreign issues, the records were credited either to Count Basie's Blue Five or the Count Basie Quintet.
This week, the Virtual Victrola features four recordings by a pickup band under the leadership of drummer Gene Krupa. The records were made in Chicago in February 1936 and helped establish trumpeter Roy Eldridge as a new force to be reckoned with in jazz.
During the time these records were made, the Benny Goodman orchestra was in the midst of an extended engagement at the Congress Hotel in Chicago. Benny was Gene's boss, and for this session Gene enlisted mostly fellow Goodman bandmates: singer Helen Ward, Goodman, pianist Jess Stacy, and guitarist Allan Reuss. To this lineup he added three black musicians: Chicago native and bassist Israel Crosby, tenorist Leon "Chu" Berry, and trumpeter Roy Eldridge.
The real newcomer among these musicians was Roy Eldridge. Eldridge had played on a few recordings made by Teddy Hill during the previous year, and while those performances were good, they contained nothing like the fierce explosion of energy that Eldridge released during this session, notably during his solo on "Swing Is Here." Perhaps Eldridge, knowing that Goodman had recently employed trumpeter Bunny Berigan, was ready to show Goodman that he was just as capable of sparking a recording session as Berigan was. Whatever the reason, Eldridge practically launched his career with these records.
Interestingly, Eldridge, Crosby, and Berry all would soon join the Fletcher Henderson orchestra and continue to record as highly sought-after sidemen. Eldridge remained a top attraction well into his 60's, until a stroke left him unable to play the trumpet. And he spent several years during the 1940's as a featured trumpeter and singer in Gene Krupa's big band. The only member of this group to die before his time was Chu Berry, who perished in an automobile accident in 1941, just as he was poised to overtake Coleman Hawkins as the king of the tenor saxophone.
Krupa also brought along Helen Ward, Benny Goodman's girl singer. Helen was a superb singer and talented pianist who possessed perfect pitch and was as easy on the eyes as she was on the ears. Her joyous performance on "I'm Gonna Clap My Hands" is a perfect example of how the right singer can add the perfect touch of class to a good jazz recording. And her vocal on "Mutiny In The Parlor," combined with Eldridge's muted trumpet solo, illustrates how strong jazz players can rescue a mediocre song from the doldrums and turn it into a fantastic performance. _______________________________________
Next week, the Virtual Victrola will wrap up the 4x4's feature with Count Basie's first recording session, four classic 1936 sides that introduced the jazz world to the President of the Tenor Saxophone, Lester Young. See you then!