Recorded 1960 at Radio Recorders, Hollywood: tracks 1-3 on August 16; tracks 4-6 on August 18; tracks 7-12 on August 23
"Incomparable" is really the only word to describe the fantastically good singing of Anita O'Day today.
There's a new ease, a new delight in everything she does. She is, in fact, at the peak of her vocal art.
If improvisation is at the heart of jazz, then Anita O'Day is at the heart of vocal improvisation. Imaginative invention springs forth in a great stream, no matter what the tune or the tempo, resulting in jazz statements that are always exciting, always listenable, always musical and highly personal, placing her in category all her by herself.
There are imitators-and good ones-but the constant surprises, the relaxed, swinging air Anita exudes in her performances place her miles ahead of the competition.
What Anita is doing is today goes beyond jazz- for improvisation is a musical art with a long and honorable tradition. And Anita has the innate musicality of an artist performing any kind music, in any century.
Whether she gives three words to a note or spreads one word over a whole batch of them, one is constantly amazed at how fresh it sounds, how right it sounds and how consistently she surprises you. Even after repeated listenings to Anita O'Day improvisation, it is still next to impossible to anticipate that glittering embroidery that decorates (and is a trademark) of her effortless interpretation.
Anita has had many fine groups to back her ever since she began lining out jazz, but this merger with arranger Bill Holman is one of the best.
Holman shares Anita's feelings about the right-ness of things, in terms of musical dynamics, tempos, and in his instrumentation. He provides a backing that complements, yet is always something more, making the total result twice as interesting because singer and band are making music together.
Perhaps Holman's greatest asset is his ability to use a big band in loosely swinging fashion of a first-rate combo without ever letting the full band overwhelms the singer. Like everything Anita sings, there's a musical reason behind every bar of Holman's arrangements, as well as a sense of economy that is highly effective.
As she has always demonstrated, Anita can take any song and make it completely right for her and jazz-and the notable example in this album is Richard Rodgers' familiar Slaughter on 10th Avenue, to which Anita gives a fresh twist by singing a scat version that could make this the new How High the Moon or Lullaby of Birdland. It's six minutes and 18 seconds of fine singing.
Avalon, paced by a great beat, is another standout performance, as is Anita's tongue-in-chic version of that old lament, Can't We Be Friends? Pop classics like Indian Summer, Speak Low, Old Devil Moon, Why Shouldn't I?, and The Party's Over take on new dimensions through Anita's performances. For she always makes the lyrics meaningful at the same time she is investigating the jazz possibilities of a tune (and therein may lie the real reason she is the Queen of Jazz)
Easy Living has probably never been sung better than it is here. If I love Again and Blue Champagne are happily revived in this album along with that dandy old Burke-Van Heusen tune, It could happen to you.
Or perhaps it should be retitled It Should Happen to You, to tie it in with the musical pleasure one gets from listening to the incomparable Anita these days.
Music Editor, Seattle Post-Intellegencer
All Music Guide