O'Day time

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

On the list of classic jazz vocalists, three names always rise to the top: Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. In Anita O'Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer, filmmakers Robbie Cavolina and Ian McCrudden roll out musicians, writers and aficionados to argue that O'Day is the one white singer from the day worthy of joining those ranks.

Through their words and O'Day's own, coming out in interviews shot before her death in 2006 and archived discussions with David Frost, Dick Cavett and Terry Gross, as well as performance footage shot throughout her career, the film illustrates how she fit with her contemporaries while raising the status of the big band era's "girl singer."

She shared Vaughn's velvety tone, Fitzgerald's scatting ability and Holiday's emotion, as well as her heroin habit. Despite 15 years on the needle, O'Day broke stereotypes by dropping ball gowns for a feminized big band uniform and working her voice like an instrument, earning praise from the likes of Gene Krupa and Oscar Peterson.

While O'Day's music has been revived for new ears through the Verve Remixed series, the doc appeals more to the traditional fan - at least at first. As her story and her spirit are revealed, along with some tidbits that establish O'Day as a hipster icon, it's hard for anyone with even the slightest interest in the subject not to pick up on its rhythm.

"Anita O'Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer"

Opens Friday at Landmark's Gateway Theatre

Grade: B