Anita O’Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer DVD review

Anita O'Day
Anita O'Day

The portrait that gets painted of self-professed “song-stylist” Anita O’Day in The Life of a Jazz Singer, is one of a woman who had few regrets during a life that had many great adversities; a 20-year addiction to heroin and alcohol, several failed marriages, illegal abortions and police arrests. Anita O’Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer documents O’Day’s journey, following her career from her early days crooning alongside the likes of Stan Kenton, Louis Armstrong, Gene Krupa, Roy Eldridge and Hoagy Carmichael, right through her “farewell” album, completed just before the singer’s death in 2006 at the age of 87.

O’Day’s life seems ripe for the biopic treatment, complete with a massive childhood injury that resulted in the loss of the uvula part of her throat (creating her trademark staccato singing voice), destructive drug addiction and numerous run-ins with the law. But despite being considered one of the greatest jazz vocalists in history, she is far less known than fellow legends Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. However the documentary stands on its own, as a fascinating piece of history and entertainment, even for the newcomer. That’s thanks to Anita’s own buoyant personality and the sheer brilliance of her stage work.

The nucleus of the documentary are interviews given just before O’Day’s passing, interspersed with clips of performance footage. Co-directors Robbie Cavolina (also her last manager) and Ian McCrudden play with color fields, vintage fonts and screen segmenting, creating a retro vibe that frames each vignette, which is sure to make fans yearn for those classic moments while they watch.

Filled with compelling facts and informative interviews, Anita O’Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer easily defines itself as the essential Anita O’Day.

Bonus Material
Bonus features include 45 minutes of captivating, full-length musical performances, many of which are hinted at during the documentary, along with two sets of outtake interviews with Anita, totaling about 45 minutes. There is also a beautifully designed 32 page full color booklet that includes news clippings – many reproduced from Anita’s own personal scrapbooks – featuring Anita’s performance dates, as well as some of her difficulties with the law, along with essays by jazz novelist Jim Gavin and jazz critic Will Friedwald, and a chapter from Anita’s autobiography, High Times Hard Times. The booklet is extremely effective as a window into her everyday life, and tops off a lovingly and professionally crafted DVD presentation.

Writer/Directors: Robbie Cavolina, Ian McCrudden
Cast: Featuring footage and appearances by Louis Armstrong, Buddy Bregman, Dick Cavett, Leonard Feather, Will Friedwald, Johnny Mandel, John Poole, Annie Ross, George Wein, Margaret Whiting, Gerald Wilson

DVD Release Date: July 21, 2009



Anita O'Day circa 1941
Anita O'Day circa 1941