Anita O’Day ‘Cool Heat’ / ‘Swings Cole Porter’ (American Jazz Classics) 4/5

Vocalist Anita O’Day came to international prominence with her appearance in the film, ‘Jazz on a summer’s day’, but more generally was an early practitioner of what came to be known as the cool style of jazz singing. She was in fact a major influence on other singers of the period, most notably June Christy and Chris O’Connor, but had a wide vocal range and could scat with the best of them. Perhaps being a native of Kansas City exposed O’Day from an early age to blues and jazz sounds. The two albums contained within were originally released on the Verve label and all but one additional song date from April 1959 sessions when the jazz world was at a crossroads with ‘Kind of Blue’ imminent. Arrangements were made by Jimmy Giuffre who also doubles up on clarinet, tenor and baritone saxophone duties. By far the more intimate of the albums is ‘Cool Heat’ and this features a version of ‘Mack the knife’ that comes a close second to Ella’s classic rendition and excellent interpretations of ‘Come rain or shine’, ‘The way you look tonight’ and notoriously Anita scatting to wonderful effect on ‘Hershey bar’. Classic big band accompaniment is provided on the second arranged by Billy May in the first of a couple of collaborations between May and O’Day, the former of whom would go on to be one of the foremost producers of Frank Sinatra. A top session roster of musicians included guitarists Jim Hall and Barney Kessel, drummers Gene Krupa and Mel Lewis, and reedists Art Pepper and Bud Shank. Among the superb repertoire of songs that Cole Porter conjured up, ‘I get a kick out of you’, impresses’ as does ‘All of you’ and ‘What is this thing called love?’. O’Day would go on to record a series of excellent early 1960s albums collaborating with the Three Sounds and Cal Tjader no less before heroin addiction would keep her out of action for the good part of a decade. She would return triumphantly during the mid-late 1970s. An excellent coupling of albums and as with the majority of American Jazz Classic releases, unbeatable value time-wise.

Tim Stenhouse