Jazz vocalist Anita Wardell has been acclaimed for the unique artistry she brings to scat and be-bop singing. Raves from peers and critics alike have cemented her reputation as one of Britain 's finest vocalists.
Born in Guildford, UK, Anita emigrated to Australia with her family as child. Enraptured by movie musicals on TV, she soaked up the classics by Rodgers and Hammerstein and Cole Porter. Equipped with a portable tape player, she would record the songs off the set and listen to them countless times. She often explored her father's collection of big band albums by Duke Ellington, Count Basie and many more. During her teens, works by the likes of Clifford Brown, Miles Davis and Charlie Parker exposed her to the complexities of modern jazz while she learned her vocal craft from greats like Ella Fitzgerald, Mark Murphy, Carmen McRae, Betty Carter and Jon Hendricks.
Attending Adelaide University in South Australia, Anita worked toward a performance in jazz and improvised music and worked regularly on the Australian jazz circuit. Performing with a host of local and international artists, including American saxophonist Richie Cole at the Kiama Jazz Festival and supporting the legendary Sarah Vaughan at the Sydney Opera House, her classroom studies were supplemented by real-life experience. Her recording career began when she joined the Adelaide Connection, formed in 1979-80. Founded by Adelaide native John McKenzie, who directed the group until the early 90s, the Connection enjoyed visits from distinguished guest artists and arrangers like Dr. Kirby Shaw, Phil Mattson, Don Burrows and James Morrison. Anita joined the group at its inception and credits the experience for teaching her how to "blend in with other singers and really listen!" Adelaide Connection recorded two albums (Makin' Whoopee and Nice and Easy) and toured throughout Australia.
Anita returned to London in 1989, continuing her studies at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, completing a yearlong course in jazz and studio music. Now touring extensively throughout the UK and Europe, Anita played festival and club dates with appearances at the venerable London jazz club Ronnie Scotts, the Royal Festival Hall, National Theatre and a yearly stint at the Paradise Festival in Cyprus each September.
In 1995, Anita went into the studio with pianist Liam Noble to record an album's worth of material with the hopes of finding a label to release it. After shopping the CD around, they signed a deal with FMR Records. Why Do You Cry? was released to great praise. Pioneer Mark Murphy proclaimed Anita, "a gift from Australia", adding "what hits me is how expressive her ballad singing is. Then she has the courage to scat a ballad or two, not unlike a young lady disciple of the Ben Webster school."
Singer Norma Winstone praises her "…unexpected vulnerability, which makes her reading of the ballads both beautiful and touching. Her honesty shines in this well-chosen collection of songs…" Jazzwise Magazine called her "energetic and inventive" while The Guardian proclaimed her "a model of the Jazz singer's art." Nearly universal praise was lavished for her timing, clarity, improvisational skills and emotional resonance.
A BBC documentary for Channel Four found Anita in the company of Kurt Elling and Dee Dee Bridgewater in a salute to Ella Fitzgerald entitled "Jazz Heroes". "I really enjoyed working on the Ella Tribute," Anita says. "Having grown up listening and transcribing Ella solos, I felt so excited to be asked to talk about one of my great inspirations. Scat is a big part of what I do and so to be able to comment on scat syllables, style and phrasing was a great experience for me."
Anita continued to work throughout the UK with her trio: pianist Robin Aspland, bassist Jeremy Brown and drummer Gene Calderazzo. Aspland has worked with George Coleman, Bobby Watson, Steve Grossman, Van Morrison, Georgie Fame and is the pianist for Curtis Stigers when he tours England . Calderazzo hails from New York where he worked with legends Joe Henderson, Lionel Hampton and Michael Brecker. Moving to London in 1995, he has become one of the most demanded jazz drummers in Europe . Brown studied at the Royal Academy of Music and has become a very sought-after sideman throughout the UK .
Anita and her trio returned to the studio in 1999 and recorded Straight Ahead, released on 33 Jazz. Critics praised her "vibrant delivery," finding in her style the "sweetness of Ella, the creativity of Mark Murphy whilst using her laughter, sadness and technique to tell a story like no other (Amazon). Japan 's most popular jazz publication, Swing Journal, gave its endorsement, writing, "…she's the real thing who can fluently scat and vocalese!"
Her latest CD, Until the Stars Fade, finds Anita returning to her first love, tackling Porter, Rodgers and Hammerstein and Rogers and Hart. She and her trio deftly interpret well-known standards in a fresh way, whether it's playful scatting on an energetic "Get out of Town" or a tender reading of "Make Someone Happy". Throughout the disc, her vocalese rivals the storied lyricists in its expressiveness. It's no wonder The Guardian calls her "one of Britain 's most exciting talents."