Film Review: JAZZ ON A SUMMER’S DAY (directed by Bert Stern, 1959 | New IndieCollect 4K Restoration)

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by Scott Yanow on July 31, 2020

in Film,Music

BETTER THAN THE FIRST TIME AROUND

Jazz On A Summer’s Day has long been considered one of the great music concert films. In 1958, photographer Bert Stern led a crew that went to the Newport Jazz Festival and filmed many of the highlights. They managed to catch quite a few memorable moments, the color photography is simply beautiful, and the sound quality is excellent. One feels very much as if they were attending the festival even though few groups are featured for more than a song. Now, the film has received a vivid 4K restoration by IndieCollect.

There are times when the photographers get a bit carried away with excessive shots of the audience. They wander away from the performances a few times (most notably when “Blue Monk” by the Thelonious Monk Trio becomes background music for a yacht race) but, almost by accident, they document some remarkable musical performances. And it does make one feel good to see the integrated bands and audiences. Jazz was always ahead of its time.

Anita O’ Day’s singing of a lowdown “Sweet Georgia Brown” and a rapid scat-filled “Tea For Two” are considered the highpoints of her career. Dinah Washington’s “All Of Me” with vibraphonist Terry Gibbs’ band is memorable as is drummer Chico Hamilton’s hypnotic drum patterns with his quintet (which has Eric Dolphy on flute). Louis Armstrong performs a few numbers including a rapid “Tiger Rag” and a heartwarming version of “Rockin’ Chair” with his old friend Jack Teagarden.

Also featured are the Jimmy Giuffre 3 (a group consisting of Giuffre’s tenor, valve-trombonist Bob Brookmeyer and guitarist Jim Hall), some whimsical dixieland by Eli’s Chosen Six (with trombonist Roswell Rudd), Sonny Stitt, the George Shearing Quintet, and the Gerry Mulligan Quartet with Art Farmer. Adding to the variety is the R&B singer Big Maybelle, Mahalia Jackson (who closes the film with two emotional spirituals) and Chuck Berry. The Berry performance is a bit amusing as he is teamed with veteran jazz players; clarinetist Rudy Rutherford musically confronts Berry for a bit, winning the battle but — as rock and roll would soon take over — losing the war.

The recently restored version of Jazz On A Summer’s Day is a must for anyone interested in jazz.

stills courtesy of Kino Lorber

Jazz on a Summer’s Day
opens August 12, 2020 in Virtual Cinemas
New York with Film Forum
Los Angeles with Laemmle Theaters
additional cities opening nationwide Aug 12 & 14
choose your local theater at Kino Marquee

Scott Yanow is a jazz journalist/historian and author of 11 books
including Jazz On Film and Jazz On Record 1917-76

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