Friday, January 2, 2009
Anita O'Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer (AOD Productions)
I have to confess that I did not know who Anita O'Day was so I came to the documentary Anita O'Day: Life of a Jazz Singer (opening January 2 at Landmark's Ken Cinema) with a fresh sense of discovery and what a wonderful treasure I found. The documentary provides a fascinating look at a woman considered by many to be one of our finest jazz singers. To her fans, this documentary may not serve up new information but it does revel in archive footage of her performances, and that is to be a satisfying treat for anyone.
O'Day died in 2006 at the age of 87 and apparently just weeks before this documentary by Robbie Cavolina Ian McCrudden was completed. The two filmmakers assemble a wealth of interviews with O'Day as well as people who knew her, worked with and admired her work. Through these interviews and extensive performance footage, the film paints a picture of a woman who presented a smiling, elegant onstage presence and maintained a fierce tenacity and amazing perseverance in life. O'Day debuted with the Gene Krupa Band in the 1940s. She made her breakthrough to a national audience in a swinging number on with trumpeter Roy Eldridge during the Gene Krupa Band's recording of "Let Me Off Uptown," which is shown in the documentary. She went on to a career that would extend over six decades. But it was a career of both highs and lows with O'Day mounting a pair of comebacks, overcoming heroin addiction, and later in life pneumonia and blood poisoning. But through it all in her interviews she maintains a feisty optimism that seems to have been the key to her survival.
Anita O'Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer is a loving tribute to an artist that deserves to be remembered.
Companion viewing: Lady Sings the Blues, A Great Day in Harlem, Let's Get Lost