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Anita O’Day: the Life of a Jazz Singer

Anita O’Day: the Life of a Jazz Singer

Sun Jun 2, 10-11.30pm, BBC4

By Gabriel Tate

There’s something rather wonderful about a life lived without regrets. Anita O’Day’s was one such. Interviewed late in life (she died in 2006) and presented with a bleak checklist of rape, abortion, jail and heroin addiction, she responds, ‘It’s just the way it went down.’ Defiant hardly covers it.

This perhaps overly respectful American documentary – it swerves her darkest hours a little too carefully – profiles one of jazz’s lesser-known stars. O’Day lived a true ‘jazz life’, improvising her way around obstacles and confounding expectations throughout, from her 1941 duet with black trumpeter Roy Eldridge (‘it raised a lot of heads’) to a late-career revival achieved through sheer determination. Her landmark performance of ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’ at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival is shown in full, but there’s ample material here to encourage an overdue reappraisal of a remarkable talent.

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