The 1958 Newport Jazz Festival featured folks like Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Stitt, Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughn, but in the wonderful 1960 documentary by Bert Stern, “Jazz on a Summer’s Day,” it was Anita O’Day, with her broad-brimmed ostrich-feather trimmed hat, white gloves, chic black dress and a somewhat-other-worldly glaze in her eyes, who stole the show.
Some have called her version of “Sweet Georgia Brown” at Newport the greatest recorded jazz performance ever, but in the film documentary of her life “Anita O’Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer” you can see what a remarkable — no, miraculous — performance it was.
Surviving rape, multiple abortions, drug busts, kicking a 16-year-heroin habit alone on a beach in Hawaii, she outlived some of the jazz divas like Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald with whom she is mentioned in the same breath. She was still singing in her 80s until her death just two years ago.
I don’t know if you can call it growing old gracefully, but this is one feisty, brutally honest, utterly charming octogenarian.
Thanks to Devin D. O’Leary’s review in the Weekly Alibi (subtitled “The lady is a tramp”), I tried to be first in line at The Guild Art Theatre, 3405 Central NE, for the opening of a five-day run on Sunday night.
Jazz fans of a certain (or any) age shouldn’t miss this film, which will be playing at 4:30, 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. tonight through Thursday.