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Sunday, March 24, 2024

Trav'lin' Light - Anita O'Day


God Bless The Child

Trav'lin' Light
Anita O'Day
Recorded in Hollywood, January 1961
Verve V6-2157

Trav'lin' Light, Don't Explain, I Hear Music, Crazy He Calls Me, Lover Come Back To Me and If The Moon Turns Green were arranged and conducted by Johnny Mandel. 

Trumpets - Al Porcino, Ray Triscari, John Anderson, Jr., Jack Sheldon
Trombones - Stu Williamson, Frank Rosolino, Dick Nash, L. MacCreary
Saxes - Joe Manini, Chuck Gentry
Piano - Russ Freeman
Bass - Buddy Clark
Drums - Mel Lewis
Percussion - Larry Bunker
Guitar - Al Viola

Remainder Produced by Russ Garcia

Leader & Guitar - Barney Kessel (courtesy Contemporary Records)
Trumpet - Don Fagerquist
Tenor Sax - Ben Webster
Piano - Jimmy Rowles
Drums - Mel Lewis
Bass - Buddy Clark

From the back cover: Barry Ulanov, who abandoned the frenzied confines of jazz criticdom for more academic pursuits a few years ago, once perceptively plotted the perils of the jazz singer. In A Handbook Of Jazz, he noted: 

"Getting into jazz singing professionally is chiefly a matter of developing a stoical disregard for decent food, decent lodging and a decent income. Even less than for jazz musicians are there opportunities for jazz singers no matter how talented. With enough skill, and a really dogged dedication to this curious part of the art of jazz, a singer may look forward to some sort of position alongside the saxophonist, the trumpeters and the rhythm sections. But history shows that only the most generously equipped have been able to come from two-bit gigs and odd week ends on the 'borscht circuit' to broad prominence and high performance in jazz singing."

Anita O'Day can appreciate Ulan's premise: that the road to self-satisfaction and security as a jazz singer takes a host of turns, many unexpected, before it approximates a straight path, if that direct route ever appears.

Now 41, she's been paying dues since her earliest jobs with Max Miller's group at Chicago's Three Deuces, when her suits were pin-stripped and double-breasted. When the Second World War spread to encompass Pearl Harbor, Anita was on the Gene Krupa bandstand, wailing the likes of Let Me Off Uptown and the slice of vocalese, That's What You Think. At war's end, she was to be found in front of Stan Kenton's brassy force, moving audiences and – equally significant – moving other vocalists. When she left Kenton in 1945, a rich vein of O'Dayisms remained to be mined by Kenton singers to follow, including June Christy and Chris Connor.

Since she left Kenton (apart from a  few month with Krupa), Anita has experienced her ups and downs; for a string of years, personal problems plagued her. On the verge of abject failure – the sort that has destroyed a flock of jazz performers – she rebounded in the late Fifties. When she did, she emerged as a different O'Day. The unglamorous grab was gone; in its place were picture hats, bouffant skirts and the assorted accouterments of a Coty Girl. More important, her singing had changed. Instead of a rough-edged, don't-give-a-damn approach, she reflected considerable discipline – without sacrificing the inventiveness and warmth that were so much a part of her style. An accompanying coyness that marked the initial moments of her resurgence has been eliminated in the refinement that has taken place.

In recent recorded outings, she's reflected a concern for the "cool" in jazz. Like jazzmen whose careers span several eras and who manage to appreciate and absorb the sounds of each era, Anita appears to be right at home amid the goings-on of contemporary jazz. Fortunately, her sound is available to the public – on records, in concert, at festivals and in a variety of night spots. Like Ella Fitzgerald, Anita long suffered from a lack of enlightened management. Now that her affairs are in order, she's prepared to make her way into the front rank of jazz vocalists – a spot she's held in the minds of musicians for many years.

The critics, too, have seen the light. John S. Wilson, in The Collector's Jazz: Modern, wrote, "By 1958 she had regained sufficient assurance to project her songs warmly, easily and confidently and in her own musical image." Writing in Down Beat in 1956, Nat Hentoff logically explained the reviewing of an O'Day LP in that magazine's jazz section: "The reenergized Anita is so welcome amid the present scarcity of major female jazz singers that her new album is reviewed here... Together with her hotly wailing beat, Anita at her best... has an intensely personal, thoroughly jazz-driven way of phrasing that is an exciting delight... Above all, there is a warm, husky O'Day sound, a happiness, a sensual zest in the pleasures of blowing with the voice that combine into one of the most infectious pleasures of jazz listening for me."

A year later, Dom Cerulli noted, in a Down Beat review, "This is an album (Anita Sings For Oscar – American Recording Society) by one of the few, very few, woman singing jazz today. In an era when the style spadework was done by Anita and turned to profit in the pop field by a dozen or so other singers, she continues to be the only one who swings consistently."

Bringing matter up to date, Ira Gitler, also reviewing for Down Beat, noted, "The variety of material she chooses and performs puts most other singers to shame in the imagination department... Miss O'Day always has been a fine rhythm singer. Most of today's new crop of 'jazz' singers are lost in tempos other than the usual ballad ones. Anita has great time on the swingers, but she also can sing a ballad..."

Today, Anita is singing better than she's ever sung. Equipped with a wondrous knowledge of the rhythms of jazz and a heart that's able to explore any sensibly-conceived tune, she projects lustrously. Less stylistically reckless than she once was, she creates and sustains an exciting musical tension by understating her way through a broad range of songs, investing even the most trivial with a pulsating attractiveness.

In this set, she provides the best case for the new O'Day, the singer who bypasses the frivolous or banal to get to the heart of honest communication in jazz.

In a direct, obvious sense, this album in a tribute to the late Billie Holiday; the tunes represent some of the most pointed in her repertoire. Yet Anita, who sings far less like Billie these days than she did as a searching young singer, interprets then with an artistry Billie would have admired. Never, from first to last note, does she strain. She delves into most of the tunes in a decidedly relaxed manner. What A Little Moonlight Can Do, for instance, flows, but never turns frantic. I Hear Music and Lover Come Back To Me are taken briskly, but never get out of hand or become victimized by tasteless shrieking.

The arrangements are by Johnny Mandel (Trav'lin' Light, I Hear Music, Don't Explain, If The Moon Turns Green, Lover Come Back To Me and Crazy He Calls Me) and Russ Garcia (all the others) range from subtle encouragement to hearty, but in intrusive, inspiration. Regardless of the size of the group backing Anita, the sounds produced never get in her way – a rare feat these days.

Consistency keynotes this entire LP, in the backgrounds, in the repertoire and – most importantly – in the performance by Anita. Her singing, whether it be a vehicle for telling a lyric's tale or a tool for expressing horn-like scat messages, is fresh. She is unique, a term few vocalists merit. – Don Gold - Associated Editor, Show Business Illustrated.

Trav'lin' Light
The Moon Look Down And Laughs
Don't Explain
Some Other Spring
What A Little Moonlight Can Do
Miss Brown To You
God Bless The Child
If The Moon Turns Green
I Hear Music
Lover Come Back To Me
Crazy He Calls Me

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