Anita O'Day sings again

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      She isn’t quite a household name like Ella Fitzgerald or Billie Holiday, but she’s considered their equal. The Knowledge Network puts the record straight tonight with Anita O’Day, The Life of a Jazz Singer, an unmissable documentary devoted to the hard-living vocalist, who died a year before the film’s release in 2007.

      O’Day herself carries much of the film in a series of interviews. She’s lively, but there’s a strange disconnect between the rest home inmate recalling her life and times for the camera and the colossal personality seen in the film’s prodigious archival footage (although the she'd actually just finished recording her last album, Indestructible!, when directors Robbie Cavolina and Ian McCrudden began assembling their film).

      Aided by luminaries such as bandleader Gerald Wilson and producer Buddy Bregman, the film covers O’Day’s amazing career from her pioneering work with Gene Krupa and Stan Kenton, and on through the towering run of solo albums she cut for Verve. Nobody shies from telling it like it was, least of all O’Day herself, who speaks at length about her heroin addiction, prison time, and a near fatal OD. Slightly less alarming is the story of a botched tonsillectomy and how it resulted in the percussive vocal technique she’s known for.

      Perhaps best of all is what the film does with that eternal question: what is jazz? A mindblowing clip from the ‘50s comes about as close as you’re ever likely to get to an answer, in which O’Day and her band take “Tea for Two” and then basically split the atom with it. Only slightly less glorious is the way O’Day bites the head off a despicably self-righteous Bryant Gumble in a post-heroin Today Show interview.

      Anita O’Day, The Life of a Jazz Singer screens tonight (June 21) on the Knowledge Network, and again on Sunday (June 24)

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      blair streloff

      Jun 21, 2012 at 11:58pm

      Anita O'day puts Bryant Gumble in his place without a drop of animosity.
      Definetly ready to move on to her next world.
      How could a humble human not revere a rare woman like her.
      Rest in Peace Anita.


      Jun 23, 2012 at 1:02am

      I've watched the documentary twice, totally in awe of this woman's unique and phenomenal talent. I knew she was a great scat singer, but this opened up a whole new world of appreciation for the musical instrument she was. Her sense of timing and rhythm and the way she improvised were unparalleled. What a gift she gave the world!