The proof can be heard on this recording of Rodgers and Hart songs she made with arranger and conductor Billy May in 1960. It followed on the heels of a Cole Porter tribute that the pair made the year before.
The hard-charging O’Day, who sang with Gene Krupa’s big band in the 1940s and is the author of one very candid biography that details her career and longtime drug addiction, is an unlikely choice to sing Rodgers and Hart. Her fast, cool style is more suited to a swinging big band than it is to Broadway, but O’Day shines on this album, which has been reissued by Verve. Many consider her best recordings to be those that she made during this period.
O’Day and May kick off the record with a rousing version of "Johnny One Note," the most exuberant of the dozen songs on the collection. Listen to her punctuate the song with one of her trademark scats.
Much of O’Day’s earlier recordings were fueled with fast songs and a powerful band, but on this CD she draws energy from the dense, intricate lyrics of Hart. On "Falling In Love With Love," for example, she finds a rhythm in the words and doesn’t miss a step.
Although she’s not known as a ballad singer, O’Day also shows remarkable skill on the slow numbers. Her voice and delivery have their characteristic insouciance, giving even the most well traveled songs like "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" a cool, hip sound.
"Ten Cents A Dance" is one of the highlights. On this track, O’Day sings about the many trials of being a dancehall girl without a hint of regret. Instead, she sings it with her chin out and a wink in her eye. The same goes for the humorous tale of murder, "To Keep My Love Alive."
"Anita O’Day and Billy May Swing Rodgers and Hart" goes a long way to explaining why O’Day is one of the best singers around.