Monday, March 29, 2010

The Life of a Jazz Singer

So. . .about three years after her death, a documentary on the high times and hard times of jazz singer Anita O'Day is out on DVD. The film had very limited release and I have had it on my Netflix waiting list for about 12 months. Now that I have finally seen it I want everyone else to see it too.

I was first introduced to Anita O'Day when I was twelve years old. I checked out the CD Let Me Off Uptown: The Best of Anita O'Day with Gene Krupa from the St. Louis Public Library and her voice has been part of the soundtrack of my life ever since. She's just so COOL. When other female singers were wearing evening gowns on stage Anita wore skirt suits that matched those of the boys in the band. Her stage name O'Day was pig latin for dough. . . as in money. Where Ella was sweet, and Sarah was sassy - Anita was the "Jezebel of Jazz".

The film lets Anita tell her story in her own words and she pulls no punches. In our world of manufactured, talentless and disposable pop stars watching Anita tell her story is like watching the explosion of a thousand suns. The woman is raw, real and as honest as they come and on top of all that. . . man can this broad swing.

This clip of Body and Soul gives me chills everytime I see it.

Her solo career was highlighted by a series of brilliant albums produced on the classic jazz label VERVE (some standouts include Anita Sings the Most 1957 and Travelin' Light 1961) and her iconic performance in Bert Stern's absolutely marvelous documentary about the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival, Jazz on a Summer's Day. Anita in that hat and those gloves. . . (you'll know what I mean after you watch the clip)

She outlived many of her good friends(like Bird and Billie) who could not shake their destructive drug habits and she talks frankly about that, her time in prison, poverty and ending her heroin addiction cold turkey because for her that was the only way to do it. She published her candid biography High Times, Hard Times in 1981 and continued to perform into the 2000s despite a botched throat operation that left her unable to recapture her glorious sound. Anita O'Day died in 2006

Anita on NPR's Fresh Air

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