"Jezebel of Jazz" Anita O'Day dies at age 87

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Friday, November 24, 2006

Anita O'Day

Anita O'Day, best known for her sassy rendition of "Sweet Georgia Brown" and "Honeysuckle Rose" died in her sleep early Thanksgiving Day, November 23, 2006. She was 87.

Known as the "Jezebel of Jazz," she was one of America's most respected jazz vocalists whose vocal contemporaries included Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan.

A Chicago native, she gained national recognition while touring with Jazz legends Gene Krupa and Stan Kenton. Her first national hit was on "Let Me Off Uptown" with Gene Krupa's orchestra, which became a million dollar seller. Downbeat magazine named her "New Star of the Year" in 1942. After touring with Stan Kenton and his Orchestra, and recording "And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine," her talent shown as a solo star. Her style became a foundational influence upon modern jazz recordings.

Her innovative scat style singing and lyrical ballads were recorded on Verve Records in the 1950s. Her colorfully innovative vocal style was evidenced in motion pictures "The Gene Krupa Story" and "Jazz On A Summer's Day."

Having a close brush with death from heroin addiction in 1967, she also survived alcohol addiction. She completed her autobiography "High Times, Hard Times" in 1981 and is the subject of a full-length documentary "Anita O'Day - the Life of A Jazz Singer," which has yet to be released. Her last album, which she recorded at age 85, "Indestructable Anita O'Day," on the Kayo Sterophonics/MRI label, was released last year.

Robbie Cavolina, her manager, said she was recovering from pneumonia at a Los Angeles convalescent hospital. And recollected that "On Tuesday night, she said to me, 'get me out of here.' But it didn't happen."

Referring to her renewed musical activity, he said that "She got to see how many people really loved her at the shows we did, in New York, in London. She had come back after all of this time. She really lived a very full and exciting life."

Born Anita Belle Colton O'Day, October 18, 1919, she escaped from a broken home at age 14, and began contesting with touring walk-a-thons popular at the time, and was occasionally asked to sing. Upon her return to Chicago, she landed her first legitimate singing job at Planet Mars, a Chicago nightclub. Carl Cons, Down Beat magazine's then-editor, was so impressed with her performance that he invited her to open his new jazz club.

As a showcase for promising jazz talent, The Off-Beat was frequented by such musicians as drummer Gene Krupa, and others. During one of her performances there in 1941, Krupa recruited her to join his orchestra.

In 1943, Anita left Krupa's band and married professional golfer Carl Hoff. She later briefly joined clarinetist Woody Herman's band, then reluctantly Stan Kenton's. Thinking her style wasn't compatible with hers, she was surprised when in 1944 the tune "And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine" became a national hit.

Anita's fierce love of swing beats, conflicted however with Kenton's infatuation with strident rhythms and novelty tunes, and a year later, left over artistic differences.

Her improvisational style, and love of bebop lured her toward those with whom she could hone her talent, and by the late 1940s began her career as a solo jazz vocal artist.

She invited John Poole, a drummer whom she met at the Club Starlite in Los Angeles, to join her. She once said of John, "If the drummer is no good, I can't make it. That's why I like John Poole. He's my favorite drummer." Their musical affiliation lasted 32 years.

In 1955, Norman Granz signed Anita to his company, Verve records, and her debut album "This is Anita" was the label's first LP. Though she rarely sang ballads, her interpretation of "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square," was considered so enthralling and fascinating that rocketed her career to new levels.

Her performances with jazz greats Louis Armstrong, Dinah Washington, Thelonious Monk, George Shearling and others were renown. She became an international star after her performance of "Jazz on a Summer's Day" at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, which later became a documentary film.

Anita recorded 16 albums between 1957 and 1963 with a variety of groups, ranging from small ensembles, big bands to large orchestras. Her performances' ranged from vibraphonist Cal Tjader to The 3 Sounds, a hard bop trio. Her first Japanese tour in 1964 was received with acclaim while stateside, the popularity of jazz was decreasing.

Her nonconventional, self-initiated cold-turkey recovery from heroin addiction at a Hawaiian retreat was successful, and she later returned to work. Her last public performance was at Hollywood, California's Cinegrill Cabaret Lounge at age 83.

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