Anita O'Day is something else. The 68-year-old singer, who acts as spry as someone half her age, opened a four-night stint at the Vine St. Bar & Grill on Wednesday with a splendid, full-of-life performance, replete with one engaging interpretation after another.
Her show, which ran from blazing up-tempos to poignant ballads, was marked by freshness and surprise: one never knew what she would do next. It was this air of the unexpected that breathed new vitality into such favored oldies as "There Will Never Be Another You," "Let Me Off Uptown" and "Wave."
Wearing black pants, a flowery top and a cheery expression on her countenance, the bronze-haired O'Day often sang in a husky voice that was barely above a whisper. Occasionally this resulted in her lyrics being lost amid her band's boisterous backing, but her rhythmic feel was so strong and her sense of melody so keen that this potential drawback didn't much matter.
O'Day, a true jazz singer, never did a "straight" reading of a song. Instead, she constantly played with the lyrics, sometimes squeezing the words into a short span of time, elongating them elsewhere, often with her mouth wide open, as if doing facial calisthenics. She also liked to deliver lyrics askew, out of a tune's given meter, and she would accent this shift by rocking back and forth in time to her alteration. An unaffected performer, she smiled openly, obviously enjoying herself.
On several occasions, O'Day traded scat phrases with fluid lines from reed man Gordon Brisker and pianist Dick Shreve. Brisker's tenor sax solos, tucked between such vocals as "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To" and "Little Drummer Boogie," added a warm instrumental color to the proceedings. Shreve, bassist Bob Maize and drummer Ted Hawke provided the kind of accompaniment that supported O'Day stylishly.