- The Washington Times - Friday, November 28, 2008

The little black dress and matching wide-brim black hat adorned with white ostrich feathers were bought just hours before Anita O’Day’s memorable 1958 appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival. The purchase was made on a whim - like so many choices in the life of the singer, whose vivid and sometimes painful tale (including her 20-year heroin addiction) is told in the documentary “Anita O’Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer,” opening Friday at the E Street Cinema.

Through archival performance footage, televised interviews of Miss O’Day (with David Frost, Harry Reasoner and Dick Cavett, among others) and candid remembrances from fellow jazz greats and friends, filmmakers Robbie Cavolina and Ian McCrudden have crafted a loving portrait of the magnificent and overlooked artist.

“Would it have helped her to be more successful if she had better management?” asks her one-time manager Maynard Sloate. “In the 1960s, she was playing clubs for $2,500 a week. At the end of three years, she was asking me for $2 to buy gas. I don’t think it requires much thought to figure out what happened to the money.”

The ever-lively and animated Miss O’Day (interviewed for the film before her death at 87 in November 2006) always acknowledged the problem and remained straightforward about her life.

“Rape, jail … abortion?” an almost disbelieving Bryant Gumbel asks at the film’s opening.

“Hey, that’s the way it went down, Bryant,” says the Chicago-born Miss O’Day, also known as the “Jezebel of Jazz.”

“I was always curious about everything. I was curious about marriage, so I tried it … twice. And I was curious about drugs,” she says while describing her introduction to heroin (by John Poole, her drummer for more than 30 years) in painful and explicit detail. “It was better than a martini; even better than sex.”

The tidbits of Miss O’Day’s past are sure to fascinate - the film also explores her associations with bandleaders Gene Krupa, Stan Kenton and Woody Herman and her hit record with trumpeter Roy Eldridge. Ultimately, however, it’s her supple alto breezing effortlessly through such favorites as “Sweet Georgia Brown,” “How High the Moon” and “Let Me Off Uptown” that’s worth the admission price.

TITLE: “Anita O’Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer”

RATING: Not rated (Strong language and adult content, discussions of drug use)

CREDITS: Produced by Robbie Cavolina, Melissa Davis and Ian McCrudden

RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes

WEB SITE: www.anitaoday doc.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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