Get SF Weekly Newsletters

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A Great Jazz Singer’s Life on Film Debuts at SFFS at the Sundance Kabuki

Posted By on Sat, Sep 27, 2008 at 3:20 PM


A line we loved in a recent article in the New York Times: “I like documentaries much more than I like movies.” We know just what they mean, and if you do, too (or even if you don’t), take a gander at Anita O’Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer, the newest offering in the San Francisco Film Society’s programming at the Sundance Kabuki, which opened just last night.

Anita O’Day, who died shortly after the film was completed, was a feisty, hedonistic, adorable, individualistic jazzbo, who jazz critic Leonard Feather classes among the greatest of all time, alongside Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, and Carmen McRae. The four qualities that make a great jazz singer, according to Feather, are the tone and timbre, the individual quality of the voice; phrasing; the choice of accompanying musicians; and the choice of material.

And Anita had them all, in spades. Plus a swell fashion sense: the photo above is from her epochal appearance at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, which was filmed by Bert Stern for Jazz on a Summer's Day. She'd purchased the whole black-and-white ensemble the day before, including the perfect ostrich-feather-trimmed hat, on a whim, from a shop right across from her Newport hotel. And the footage of her singing "Sweet Georgia Brown," unforgettably, under the tony topper took her to Time magazine and to Japan, where she toured and recorded for three decades.

In addition, Anita amassed life experience that included rape, jail, and heroin addiction, as Bryant Gumbel announces up top. And as the unrepentant Anita replies: “That’s just the way it went down, Bryant.” A tumultuous life story, interspersed with irresistible vintage footage that really swings. --Meredith Brody

  • Pin It

About The Author

Janine Kahn


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed

Like us on Facebook


  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"