Anita O'Day: Tea for Two

Anita O'Day

Looking like a grande dame in Vogue, singing like a dame outa Down Beat, Anita O'Day walked away with Jazz on a Summer's Day (1960). The documentary of 1958's Newport Jazz Festival should have been called Jazz on a Summer's O'Day.

"I was scheduled for 5 o'clock in the afternoon," Miss O'Day recounts in her autobiography, "and I asked myself what to wear. 'It's teatime,' I told the Italian lady who ran a dress shop in Greenwich Village. She brought out this black dress, trimmed with white. We both knew it was right, but I asked what I could wear on my head. She went into the back room and came out with a black cartwheel, trimmed with white feathers. Both went with my see-through, plastic pumps and for a fun touch I added short white gloves."

After flicking mud from an earlier rain off her shoe, a tightly hemmed Anita wriggled on stage and squinted at the crowd. "Performing in the afternoon was a bonus," she recalled, "because I could see the audience. I spotted Chris Connor out there." Like O'Day, Connor had served a stretch as Stan Kenton's vocalist. "That was good," Anita thought, "because I can make my performance the way I want it to be when I know some of the audience digs what I'm doing and I can relate to them."

She related with what amounts to a clinic on jazz singing, in particular wowing the crowd with her up-tempo take on the 1925 chestnut "Tea for Two." Blazing through the lyrics, Anita treats both melody and rhythm to a complete makeover, exercising the unbridled flair of an interior decorator given carte blanche by a client with deep pockets. Following a short piano solo, Anita switches to scat, trading fours with Poole's wire-brushed drums. To conclude, Anita amuses the audience by exchanging wordless quotes with her trio from "Flip Top," a favorite '50s TV jingle. "You get a lot to like with a Marlboro," the original assured. "Filter, flavor, flip-top box." In those halcyon days, cigarette jingles were considered harmless fun. Fifty years later, coffin-nail jingles are thankfully a thing of the past. Anita O'Day, though, is as much fun as ever.

April 07, 2008 · 0 comments


Sonny Stitt & Sal Salvador: Loose Walk

"Loose Walk" begins with Sonny Stitt in mid-solo. No, the musicians did not forget the opening. Filmmaker Bert Stern left it on the cutting-room floor for his documentary of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, Jazz on a Summer's Day (1960). And since this is the Original Soundtrack, that's all we get. It's a shame because, judging from his extant three choruses, Stitt was hotter than the noonday sun.

Guitarist Sal Salvador fared better than his co-star. Sal's 8-chorus solo is intact. (Assuming that the two frontline players took solos of equal length, which is usually the case during such loosely organized jams, that means nearly two-thirds of Stitt's solo is missing.) Except for his 1952-53 stint with Stan Kenton's New Concepts of Artistry in Rhythm, Salvador maintained a low profile throughout a career that spanned five decades, spent mostly in New England. But, as he shows here, Sal was a fine technician who could execute single-note lines with grace and imagination.

The head—heard only at track's end—was previously recorded by Clifford Brown & Max Roach as "The Blues Walk" (1955). According to Verve's 2000 reissue thereof, the tune originated with altoist Chris Woods, who recorded it in 1952; issued years later, it was wryly titled "Somebody Done Stole My Blues." In honor of Sonny Stitt, perhaps this track should also be retitled: "Somebody Done Stole My Solo."

March 30, 2008 · 0 comments


Thelonious Monk: Blue Monk (live at Newport, 1958)

The most frequently criticized sequence in Jazz on a Summer's Day, Bert Stern's documentary of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, is Thelonious Monk's performance of "Blue Monk."  Like Jimmy Giuffre before him, Monk repeats a tune he'd played on the previous year's CBS telecast The Sound of Jazz. Monk even sports the same bamboo-framed sunglasses outdoors in July as he'd worn in the TV studio the prior December.

The criticism, though, is never directed at Monk, but rather at the filmmaker for relegating the pianist to background music for distracting aerial shots of the America's Cup trials, filmed by Stern leaning out of a rented Piper Cub over the waters off Newport and proving once again Damon Runyon's timeless axiom that viewing a yacht race is like watching grass grow. Even more annoying than the lumbering boats, however, is the fact that much of Monk's solo is obscured by a nautical sportscaster jabbering from his perch on the bridge of the U.S. Destroyer William R. Rush, strategically deployed at taxpayer expense within 200 yards of the starting line. (Did they fear a British Royal Navy sub might torpedo Columbia, the ultimately victorious New York Yacht Club entry?)

Unfortunately for purists, the original soundtrack CD provides not a pristine "Blue Monk," but a badly mangled compromise. In the process of mercifully stripping the inane prattle from this track, 16 bars of Monk's solo have been mislaid! In lieu of the movie's seven choruses, the CD contains a choppy five and two-thirds choruses—which ain't exactly what God had in mind when He gave Moses the 12-bar blues. Consequently, among the more than two dozen recordings of "Blue Monk" that its composer left us, this track in its present form must rank near the bottom. This criticism, though, is not directed at Thelonious, but towards those who treat his legacy with such disrespect.

March 30, 2008 · 2 comments


Jimmy Giuffre: The Train and The River (live at Newport, 1958)

On its face, the Jimmy Giuffre 3 playing their signature contrapuntal folk-jazz opus "The Train and The River" seems an oddly low-key opener for Jazz on a Summer's Day (1960), Bert Stern's documentary of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. For that matter, Giuffre's drummerless chamber jazz seemed as ill-suited to the NJF's open-air park on a balmy summer afternoon as a string quartet at Yankee Stadium. Yet the filmmaker's instinct proved canny. By not showing the musicians until two minutes into the performance, Stern not only teases us with an appealing tune underneath his main titles, but actually builds suspense as to when or even if the players will appear onscreen. Finally they do, and in close-up at that—so close up, in fact, that guitarist Jim Hall goes unseen until the track concludes and he rises to take a bow. Otherwise, Stern holds a single shot of Giuffre bobbing and weaving with his tenor sax, as Bob Brookmeyer hovers behind him in a supporting role, for a remarkable 2½ minutes.

Rendering this piece on the previous year's CBS telecast The Sound of Jazz, Giuffre's trio consisted of clarinet/sax, guitar and bass. Six months later, the bass had been replaced by valve trombone, creating one of the most unusual instrumentations in jazz history. While the audio on this 2004 CD is erratic (it sounds better on the actual movie soundtrack), anyone wishing to concentrate on the music can do so sans artsy images of reflections in marina water. With or without pictures, "The Train and The River" is one of the finest 1950s jazz compositions, and this live performance on the 4th of July glitters like the first sparklers at twilight.

March 29, 2008 · 0 comments


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