Generally favorable reviews - based on 12 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 12 out of 12
  2. Mixed: 0 out of 12
  3. Negative: 0 out of 12
  1. How was this careless, self-destructive human rhythm machine able to outlast almost all her peers? Maybe the vitality of the jazz she made kept her alive. She was one tough lady.
  2. 88
    Here was a great artist. She enjoyed her life. She didn't complain at the time, she didn't complain when she went cold turkey, she didn't complain in her 80s.
  3. Reviewed by: Howard Reich
    Swinging gleefully on a sun-soaked afternoon, crafting strangely intoxicating phrases, O’Day could do no wrong on that afternoon at the Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island in 1958.
  4. There's real joy in O'Day's eyes - and larynx - as she bobs and weaves through an amazing songbook.
  5. Reviewed by: Robert Koehler
    Although the documentary is something of a patchwork affair and lacks the late singer's ineffable smoothness and rhythmic brilliance, it emphatically makes the case that here was one of the four or five all-time great female jazz voices – or "song stylists," as she called herself.
  6. 75
    A high point shows O'Day, in a black-and-white hat and form-fitting dress, singing "Sweet Georgia Brown" at the Newport Jazz Festival. That scene alone confirms O'Day's place among the greats.
  7. Reviewed by: Joel Selvin
    A loving biographical tribute.
  8. Reviewed by: Sura Wood
    An engaging if less than revelatory documentary.
  9. Reviewed by: Jim Ridley
    A good deal livelier than the usual music-doc embalming.
  10. Reviewed by: Dennis Harvey
    Force of personality and terrific vintage performance clips make a keeper of Anita O'Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer.
  11. One of the few white vocalists to play the Apollo, O'Day does fabulous things with her hands as well as her voice when she sings. Her talent and will to survive (in the late 60s she kicked a 16-year heroin addiction) are reasons enough to see this film.
  12. Reviewed by: Ken Fox
    Offers what her fans came to expect from the "Jezebel of Jazz": great music.
User Score

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User score distribution:
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  1. Jun 18, 2014
    Anita O'Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer: 6 out of 10: I had no idea who Anita O'Day was when I rented this film. I like Jazz well enough and enjoy having it as background music, but I am hardly what one describes as an aficionado.

    Since viewing this film, I have watched the wonderful documentary "Jazz on a Summer's Day" and have downloaded some fine Anita O'Day jazz albums.

    Therefore, from one point of view, the documentary is a stunning success. It got me interested enough in its subject, for me to take actions after viewing.

    The film however suffers from uneven interviews and presentation. Film quality is all over the map and some of O'Day's last interviews were clearly filmed by folks unfamiliar with the workings of a motion picture camera.

    Even more disappointing is the poor sound quality of many of the musical tracks and the lack of sampling from her albums.

    You know if you have a 16-year heroin addiction and four failed marriages and you still manage to live until 87 despite grinding poverty and botched healthcare, you are the definition one tough bird. Unfortunately that also signifies most of your contemporaries are long dead. Many of the war stories as a result, tend to be second hand at best.

    The film does contain one wonderful non-musical highlight. In a mid-seventies interview a young Bryant Gumbel states to O'Day "Your life story involves rape, failed relationships, drugs, and multiple abortions". O'Day's that is just they way it went down response is priceless.

    Anita O'Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer is a decent film but I would recommend renting Jazz on a Summer's Day first. That concert seems to capture the magic better than anything else I have seen.
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