Tuesday, June 28, 2005

my Anita O'Day obsession

A few of months ago my yoga teacher Garth put on a recording of the jazz singer Anita O'Day, and ever since then I've been addicted. Whatever it is about her voice, her phrasing, her style, I just find her singing irresistible. Full disclosure on how much of a nerd I am: when I recently purchased a laptop computer, I decided to name it "Anita O'Dell" in her honor.

One curious thing about Anita O'Day is that her album covers tend to feature terrible photographs. She wasn't an unattractive person, yet I may have never picked up a CD of hers had I not already fallen in love with the voice. In an industry in which female recording artists' success too often seems to depend on sexy album covers, though, it's refreshing to be reminded that appearance needn't take precedence over substance.

My obsession with Anita was largely based on the first CD Garth played me (Jazz 'Round Midnight) and a couple of others I've been able to find, all representing her work from the '50s and early '60s. Then last week my brother took me to Amoeba Music, a fantastic record store in Los Angeles, and I found an album of hers called My Ship, recorded in the late '70s. Listening to this album was incredibly moving - it is the same voice, but the decades in between have deepened her, and added a new poignance to her performance.

It is probably more common to discover a jazz singer in later years and then to work backwards to the earlier recordings, but reversing the process can be just as fascinating. Had I never heard her more recent work I would have still found her delightful, but I would have missed a whole dimension of her career, the effect of time and maturity. In music, an art form so concerned with stretching, suspending, and shaping time, it is a wonder to hear how time can shape a great artist.

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