While writing my post the other day on my favorite Anita O'Day album for Verve (Anita O'Day and Billy May Swing Rodgers and Hart), I reached out to arranger-composer Russ Garcia in New Zealand for a comment. Here's what Russ had to say, followed by a few other stories from readers [Photo of Anita O'Day by Malcolm Moore]...
"Dear friend Marc, I did several albums and odd arrangements for Anita over the years. Yes, she was very kooky, but she always could swing like a brass section. In fact, she made the band swing. She sang with lots of real feeling, and she didn't drag way behind the beat, like so many singers did. On a beautiful ballad, she would sing close to the melody on the first chorus and then dip into her bag of tricks for the rest. So you can see why it was a joy to work with her. [Pictured: Russ Garcia]
"Even though I did often bail out Billy [May, pictured] when he wasn't going to make his deadline for a session—staying up all night and writing like a bunny—I don't recall working on Swings Rodgers and Hart. Of course, this was many long years ago. And even though I helped Billy, he was a great arranger and a nice guy with a great sense of humor."
Note: Russ will be in the U.S. in October and November conducting concerts in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Palm Beach, Fla. More to come as plans firm up.
This comment is from photographer Malcolm Moore, whose image is at the top of this post...
"Great column today. I saw Anita O'Day twice—in the summers of 1982 and 1984. The former was at Charlie's Georgetown, the club in Georgetown in Washington, D.C., owned by guitarist Charlie Byrd. She was quite a character. Even though I'm now getting rid of most of my LPs, those of Anita's that she autographed for me will remain in my possession. She autographed one album, 'How come Malcolm?'—the type of playful comment that made her such a 'hip chick.' Thanks for your column."
And this one is from Joe Lang, past president of the New Jersey Jazz Society...
"In December 1973, I saw that Anita was going to be at the Half Note, in its new uptown location in New York. Our first son had been born three months earlier, and we hadn't been out since his birth. The temptation to see Anita was strong, so we arranged to have my sister play the role of babysitter. It was Saturday December 23.
"We arrived for the first set but wound up staying through the entire evening. As the last set was coming to a close, Anita decided to sing The Christmas Song as her closer. It was appealing to anticipate her singing such an out there choice, at least for her.
"Well, it must have taken six or seven minutes for her and her pianist to settle on a key, but it was a special ending to a memorable evening.
"On another occasion, I was going to see her at Trumpets in Lincoln Park, N.J. I have never been an avid autograph collector, but I decided to bring my copy of her autobiography, Hard Times High Times, and politely ask her sign it. When I got there, she was talking with Amos Kaune, the club's owner. So I waited for their conversation to end before approaching her.
"When she and Amos parted, I walked up to her and made my request. She curtly responded 'I'm on my time now,' and headed straight to the bar for a drink.
"After the first set, Amos announced that Anita would be at the bar during the break and would sign autographs. I swallowed my pride and headed over to the bar, book in hand.
"Upon asking her again to sign the book, she took it with a big grin on her face, signed it and proceeded to go through the pictures, describing to me and others the circumstances behind the photos. I began to wonder if she was ever going to return the book to me.
"The start of the second set was another Anita moment. At the beginning of the first song, her pianist (whose name I do not recall) played an arpeggio. She stopped dead, put her hands on her hips, stared at him and said into the mike, 'Can't you play a better arpeggio than that?' [Photo of Anita O'Day © Paul Slaughter]
"The pianist, who must have been familiar with her quirks, simply shrugged his shoulders, and proceeded to play another arpeggio that seemed to satisfy her. The show went on."
JazzWax clip: I'm not sure where this footage comes from (if you know, please leave a Comment), but it's truly extraordinary. For one, Anita can tell a story as well as she can sell a song. For another, she delivers her story almost journalistically, without any analysis or performance. And watch carefully at the end how her expression steadily downshifts into deep sadness...