Younger than Ella, a few years ahead of Sarah, Anita O'Day now belongs to that elite group of vocal jazz giants to whose names are appended either "the legendary" or "the late." Happily, she is firmly in the former group, as was revealed in a typical performance Thursday at the Vine St. Bar & Grill, where she began a four-night stand.
Never was the cliche about using the voice as an instrument more applicable than in the case of this indomitable woman, whose recent illness and two-month absence from the scene evidently left her unscathed. Perhaps a few more notes than usual landed a bit south of the mark, but so what? You were expecting maybe Marilyn Horne?
Opening and closing as always with "Wave" (playing melismatic games with the second syllable of "together"), she instilled a couple of surprises into a set marked by predictable patches of Gene Krupa nostalgia. What began at the piano with Dick Shreve playing " 'Round Midnight" seemed to evolve into another song called "Midnight," which in turn was revealed to be the verse of a 1932 Victor Young ballad, "Street of Dreams."
Earl Palmer occupied a drum chair held for 30 years by John Poole, with whom O'Day recently ended her partnership. Completing the combo were the fine bassist Bob Maize and tenor saxophonist and flutist Gordon Brisker.
There may be those who, technically, can outsing Anita O'Day, but it will be a subzero night on Vine Street before anyone outswings her.