Anita O’Day: Re-releases for the Uninitiated Fans


Anita O’Day

Re-releases for the Uninitiated Fans

by Alexandra Watts

Anita O’Day is an underrated jazz vocalist, a character in one of the greatest hypothetical reality shows of the 20th century – Jazz — and hopefully your next record purchase. O’Day had a re-release of three albums (Trav’lin Light, Anita, and Anita Sings the Most), which all can serve as an introduction to one of the most fantastic voices to grace the 20th century.

I was first introduced to O’Day in a compilation of essays titled, Heroes and Villains by David Hajdu, a book I found at my local Zia Records. (While this may seem like the start of a teen movie (high school student broadens her cultural lexicon in a hybrid record/bookstore), I had no clue how interested in O’Day I would become.)

The essay on O’Day included in the book mentions her performance at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958. I’ve included the clip below, and encourage you to dedicate the time to experience what is not only a phenomenal moment in jazz history, but music history.

I can admit bias, but it’s really not an opinion on the arena of excellence that Ms. O’Day resides in. She is underrated, but public exposure does not correlate to talent.

A perfect place to start with becoming familiarized by the notes of O’Day is to become familiar with the re-releases.

Trav’lin Light is a tribute album to Billie Holiday. So, yeah, there is a Paul McCartney tribute, but there’s also this. Her simplistic cover of “God Bless The Child” is enough to reduce you to tears, or if catharsis isn’t your scene when listening to music, you will be at least be touched by the clean sound of O’Day’s delivery.

The thing about O’Day, and all jazz vocalists, is the differentiation in their delivery. O’Day sounds different than Holiday on the tracks, but because jazz is a unique genre that the differences in covers are more apt to please the listener. The uniqueness in delivery of various standards is a cornerstone in what makes the genre special.

However, there is a stereotypical jazz voice that comes to mind, and O’Day does not fit this mold. This makes the delivery of these songs that much more special. On Anita, a 1955 original release, many of O’Day’s vocals could totally be applied to songs that came out ten years later. O’Day could have definitely headed a band in the sixties, or even seventies.

Really, the timeless quality in her voice would have let her to being successful no matter what year or genre.

The transcending quality of her vocals is also shown on Anita Sings the Most. This album showcases the cabaret quality in her voice, in this joint 1957-effort with the Oscar Peterson Quartet.

“’S Wonderful/They Can’t Take That Away From Me” the opening track, leads you into the scat elements that mix wonderfully with the quality of her voice. This trait is also found on “Tea For Two,” one of he greatest songs (and also one of the songs she performed in the clip above).

This album exemplifies the relationship between musician and vocalist working together in harmony to create a product that represents the best in the music and the vocals.

In short, these three albums are wonderful introductions to O’Day, but it is highly recommended that you look up her other works as well. Ultimate Anita O’Day, a compilation album/gem, is the perfect stepping stone to get a more comprehensive sound.

O’Day also has a memoir, countless other albums, and most importantly, a voice that should pay a visit to everyone’s eardrums.

All genres of music have their artists that are underrated. They usually fall into categories of cult- classics, underground hits, having songs that can be sampled on a rap song, and other various of non-mainstream reaches. O’Day fits into some of these categories, but as evidenced from her discography, the main category she falls into is “good music.”

The re-release of these three albums are nice supplements to those who want to become familiarized with O’Day, who performed until her death at 87 years old in 2006. And in a life filled with iconic performances, arrests, addictions, and redemption, the music captures a vocal master.