Carmelo's was crowded on Saturday, and with good reason: For the third night of Anita O'Day's stint, instead of the quartet that had backed her on the previous evenings, a big band provided her accompaniment. In effect, this was a preview of a Carnegie Hall concert May 24, when O'Day will celebrate her 50th anniversary in the music business.
The 16-piece ensemble had been assembled by Roger Neumann, who, in Washington for an inaugural gig, was not able to conduct it. Instead, the singer led the band through its paces for the first few numbers, after which Buddy Bregman took over as conductor to direct five arrangements he had written for two of her record dates in the 1950s.
All of which would have been fine, except that there was literally no rehearsal. "I'll be hearing charts I haven't heard in all these years," O'Day said.
For those who had never seen an actual rehearsal, there was curiosity in hearing her stop the band in mid-tune and call out such instructions as "try it again from Bar 115," or "let's do that ending one more time." Others, having paid an admission fee for what they assumed would be a properly prepared set, may have felt otherwise.
Still, this indomitable survivor, looking incredibly younger than her 65 years, displayed the same individuality of sound and phrasing, the same ingratiating casual air, that have always been her trademarks. A surprise touch was the appearance of Graham Young, who played in the 1941 Gene Krupa band with which O'Day sang. Young played and sang the Roy Eldridge role in that band's biggest hit, "Let Me Off Uptown," and although neither he nor O'Day seemed too sure of their cues, it came off as nostalgic fun.
Bregman did his best to coordinate vocalist and band. "Honeysuckle Rose" was splendid, but "I Can't Get Started" lived up to its title as O'Day lost her way and the band stopped halfway through a chorus.
She will return to Carmelo's Thursday and Friday with a quartet, while the full orchestra, with Roger Neumann in charge, will be back Saturday.
If you would rather be sure of Grade-A O'Day, try Thursday or Friday; but if you're a gambler, Saturday might turn out to be a good bet.