REMEMBERING ANITA O'DAY - by Buddy Bregman
Buddy Bregman was the arranger/conductor on the first album on the Verve label (Verve1001 - ANITA) and 'In Tune International' is privileged to print some of Buddy's recollections of working with a very colourful character.
I spoke at her memorial service and her manager at the end of the service passed the CD out to all and said ''this was her favourite album she ever made - and Buddy Bregman did all the arrangements and conducted it''. I will miss her a lot - we had a great time together - 3 albums - 2 with Verve - 1 with Pablo - Honeysuckle Rose - Sweet Georgia Brown - etc.
It came about when Norman Granz was starting a new pop record company. He had just heard a record of mine on the radio ('I Need Your Lovin' by Lieber & Stoller with the Cheers on Capitol) and liked it. Would I like to work for him? I said yes and at that moment became the A&R head of Verve Records and a deal to arrange and conduct any sessions I wanted to. So when I came in I asked him what artists he had. He said none, only the ones on Clef and Norgran. I told him since they were all jazz artists how could I do any pop records with them. He said I had to do something until we signed some people which would take about 3-6 months and he had promised the distributors some new recordings by the next month.
So I went over the Jazz artists on the jazz labels he had and I found no one who was pure enough to do pop, so I looked for crossovers - obviously vocalists, and I saw Joe Williams name with Count Basie I thought well, I'll get some stuff written for him and a lady who had gone to my high school and had an infamous reputation, Anita O'Day.
Norman said she never sold over 3,000 albums in her life. If you do better than that, it's a miracle. ANITA has now sold over 600,000 units and did 385,000 in the first six months.
I hated her singing. But I went to see her at a club on Hollywood Blvd near Western, and she did a whole set with her back to the audience. I thought wow, that is so weird I never even thought it had anything to do with drugs - heroin, cocaine I didn't even know those words.
I met her and her drummer friend John Poole. She tried to be smiley, and I came up with my usual, brash smart-alecky repartee, which I thought was pretty funny and I just got stares. She invited me to their hovel in Long Beach - San Pedro? I thought we should do a jazz album then follow it with some pop singles, but with that voice, pop?
Her piano keys have no white ivory on them and when we rehearsed 'Honeysuckle Rose', she asked if I could play more in the cracks. That stopped me. So I actually moved my fingers a little to the left and she nodded like "That's what I meant."
Too weird for me. I told my mom when I got home what she had said and mother said, ''Oh, those jazz people, they're all crazy". Mother was right.
It was there that I learned NEVER to rehearse with Anita. Figure out the songs, the keys, go over them once, make a cassette for her to rehearse by, and have NO INTERACTION until the session. I would not use John Poole on drums and she was mad about that but as young as I was, I knew what I was doing.
The album was such a hit that Norman said to do another one. 'PICK YOURSELF UP', with the famous arrangement of mine on "SWEET GEORGIA BROWN". Also done in the film 'Jazz on a Summer's Day'. In between I did a singles session with her. I think the first release was 'The Getaway' and 'The Chase'. It did okay but not as well as the albums. I think 'PICK YOURSELF UP' went about 200,000 units. So that sure beats 3,000.
In the middle of one of the takes, she walks over to me and whispers in my ear, ''Fire the drummer!" A true nut case. Years later, when they got the deal with Pablo, they called me because as she said, no matter what arrangers we have ever used before and after you, none of them understood how to make a hit album with Anita only you.
Working with her all those years later was a nightmare. I'm now a producer-director-writer and she's a lush. No drugs, but lots of liquor. First thing she does when we get together is turn to my girlfriend Marie de Puthod, a Hollywood screenwriter / director, and says, "Oh, Girlie, go out and buy me some Chivas." and hands her a $20 bill. She sends Marie, who is a Comptesse, born and raised in Paris, her family name 'de Puthod' etched on the Arc de Triomphe, one of the 1st families of France, to shlep her booze! Anyhow, I picked all the songs, as I did not want to do old jazz chestnuts, only newer stuff, Sondhe|m, Carly, Cy Coleman, etc. It took her 'years' to learn it. I had to hire a guy in Hemet to woodshed the material with her. Strangely enough, I guess I should always lay off writing charts for 20 years, because I think I did my best work ever as arranger on that album. Unfortunately, she did her worst, never in tune, always in La La Land.
She was a really complicated interesting lady - but all in all WAS REALLY DIFFERENT in her craft. Influenced many. I wish I had been a looser kinda guy - but she needed to work with someone like me who is so disciplined - also I have never smoked or drank or ever done drugs - so I obviously was the "task-master / A&R and arranger-conductor she needed at that time - but in essence a sweet woman who just made bad life choices. Article taken from In Tune International Feburary 2007, issue 180