Pick Yourself Up with Anita O’Day or: Look at this Cool Thing I Found!

And now for something completely different. Since this blog started (nearly three years ago now) we have, with very few exceptions, concentrated on artists, recordings, and similarly musicky things that were, at the very least, newish. But today, I’m changing gears, not just because I can, but for the sheer subjective awesomeness of the subject matter (which is just another way of saying “because I want to”).

Like any sane person, I’ve been reasonably obsessed with Anita O’Day from the moment I saw this video. She is, for my money, one of the most incredible artists who has ever taken the stage. I’d like to say that I would pursue her recordings to the ends of the Earth, but actually, I’ve never had to travel farther than Springfield, OH (about 45 minutes west of here). This one came from eBay.

I won’t bog you down with too many details. I’m wordy enough as it is, don’t ask me to provide even a brief history of her 70-year career. Anita’s autobiography High Times, Hard Times and the brilliant documentary Anita O’Day: Life of a Jazz Singer do her far more justice than I can in 500 words. But a few details about the record might help to explain why I’ve decided to give it a post of it’s own.

This is a test pressing of a 78 rpm single from the Verve Records 2000 series (specifically V-2000), not to be confused with the other Verve 2000 series also begun in 1956, which were 33 1/3 LPs. (There is some correlation, however. For instance, MGV-2000 is also an Anita O’Day record, This is Anita, though the tracks from the V-2000 release—“I’m With You” and “Rock and Roll Waltz— do not appear on it, or indeed any of Anita’s other early Verve LPs. In fact, these numbers don’t resurface until 1992, as bonus tracks with the CD reissue of Pick Yourself Up with Anita O’Day.)

I’m perfectly willing to admit that V-2000 is not Anita at her best. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s fine, really. But it’s certainly more pop oriented than her trademark hard-swinging scat recordings from the Verve LPs. Still, it’s a special piece, both for its historical significance, and simply as a curiosity. Though I can’t be sure where exactly it falls in the Verve Records chronology—good, detailed historical information about the Verve catalogue (not to mention the label itself) is shamefully hard to come by—this is very early.

Furthermore, Verve founder Norman Granz was particularly partial to jam sessions and the energy of live performance and quickly came to eschew the severe time restrictions of the 78 in favor of the relative freedom of 33 1/3 rpm long-players. Still, the early Verve catalogue did feature some 78s (as best I can tell, the 1000 and 2000 series) including this one. And so, since I could find no videos on YouTube of either of these recordings, I meandered down to my favourite local record shop, Spoonful Records, and borrowed their 78 rpm turntable to make a couple of my own.

So, here we go, quite possibly the first time in 55 years, have a listen to the test pressing of Anita O’Day performing “I’m With You” and “Rock and Roll Waltz”, orchestra arranged and conducted by Buddy Bregman (V-2000).

(Incidentally, if you know of a good book about Verve Records, I’d love to read it. I know an extensive biography of Norman Granz came out earlier this year, but I can find nothing about the label itself.)