Saturday, November 25, 2006

Oh hell…

Double bummer reading the Times yesterday: Betty Comden and Anita O'Day died on Thursday.

Comden and her writing partner Adolph Green were my favorites in the world of stage and film musicals. Their lyrics could put high-brow references in a decidedly low-brow context, or turn the banality of everyday life into elegant melancholy—qualities that are exactly reflected in their scripts for On the Town and The Band Wagon. Comden and Green were open to the world around them, and connected to it with an uncommon relish that gave their work a unique verve and humor.

Below you can download their own versions of a pair of songs from one of their lesser-known efforts, Two on the Aisle, a 1951 stage vehicle for Dolores Gray and Bert Lahr.

As for Anita O'Day, she was my favorite jazz singer—and among my top five favorite singers, period—though I discovered her not through jazz but through show tunes. More specifically, her rendition of "Who Cares?," from the 1931 Gershwin musical Of Thee I Sing. O'Day's voice had a smoky texture not unlike Dusty Springfield's (another entry in the all-time list). There are many things to praise about her but my favorite aspect of her performing style was the way she could sing very, very fast with no loss in clarity or interpretative subtlety whatsoever. Her 1959 album Anita O'Day Swings Cole Porter with Billy May, of which "Just One of Those Things" is the opening track, is packed with breakneck takes on Porter classics. As for the details of her life, the title of her autobiography, High Times Hard Times, pretty much says it all.

Comden & Green: "If"
Comden & Green: "Catch Our Act at the Met"
Anita O'Day: "Who Cares?"
Anita O'Day: "Just One of Those Things"

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