I woke up this morning veeeeery slowly, to the sounds of some NPR talker going on and on about the late great jazz singer Anita O'Day. Either he said the phrase 'the best female jazz singer you've never heard of' 18 times, or else my waking mind caught that phrase in some sort of wringer, because I remember hearing it way too many times for one short radio story.
The thing is, I *had* heard of Anita O'Day. I'm no great shakes when it comes to remembering stuff about music. For some reason my mind cannot hold onto song lyrics, band names, song titles, or singers' names - and I have virtually no chance of getting all of those right for one particular song. Ever. But I do know Anita O'Day because when I lived in England my dance partner introduced me to her.
My dance partner was an extremely tall man who looked like a young John Cleese. I found him at a swing dance club outside of Oxford and when I mentioned that I wanted to start teaching a beginners class in my own neighborhood he volunteered to help. We had a good time teaching classes and I will always remember him for two things: he's the only very tall straight man I've ever known in person to use jazz hands, and he introduced me to Anita O'Day by way of her song 'Peel Me a Grape.'
If you've never heard 'Peel Me a Grape' you should find it somewhere and have a listen. I'm no jazz scholar so I won't attempt to dissect it. I'll just say it's the kind of song that Marilyn Monroe wished she could sing - all pouty sex-kitten lyrics - but with a great swingy rhythm and truly perfect vocals. It goes fast too so O'Day purrs through bossy lines like "peel me a grape", "french me a fry" and (my favorite) "cashmere me" at a pretty good clip. And the whole thing is such fun to dance to. If you know someone who dances to swing music, beg for a twirl around the floor. It's that good!