While watching Bert Stern’s “Jazz on a Summer’s Day,”
I was reminded of how much I also enjoyed two other
music festival films: “Woodstock” and “Monterey Pop.”
With its use of interesting audience shots and cutaway
footage of local activities in the concert vicinity, Stern’s
documentary of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival seemed
to provide a template for those later films. Sadly, all
three films share the omissions of several participating
artists, whose performances weren’t included in the final
cut of the theatrical releases. To the best of my knowledge,
there is no “extended director’s cut” of “Jazz on a
Summer’s Day” that rectifies these omissions.
Nevertheless, with a running time of barely more than
80 minutes, this film is a treasure, and the camera work
and editing help capture this festival experience for
posterity. It may also be the first documentary of its kind,
thereby making it truly important. The immediacy of the
performances by Louis Armstrong and his All Stars,
Mahalia Jackson, Anita O’Day, Dinah Washington,
Thelonious Monk, Chico Hamilton and his Quintet,
Gerry Mulligan with his Quartet, and even Chuck Berry,
provided a “you are there” atmosphere. The printed
program notes were included as a bonus feature, stating
that with the exception of Jackson and Berry, the
focus of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival was
on “pure Jazz.”
While not a part of the Festival, I did appreciate the
cutaway footage of Chico Hamilton’s cellist, Fred Katz,
playing the “Praeludium” of Johann Sebastian Bach’s
“Cello Suite No. 1,” while shirtless and smoking a cigarette.
I’d say that this documentary successfully captured the
feel of this event, even though I wish it were longer.
Fortunately, the bonus “making of” documentary on this
release from New Yorker Video has interview footage
with Bert Stern. As a still photographer, Stern indicated
that he successfully used those techniques to capture
many of the shots in the film, and the nature of this
pioneering project was explained in great detail.
I highly recommend watching this DVD. I liked it a lot!