tue 07/07/2020

Reissue CDs Weekly: Jazz on a Summer's Day | reviews, news & interviews

Reissue CDs Weekly: Jazz on a Summer's Day

Reissue CDs Weekly: Jazz on a Summer's Day

‘60th Anniversary Special Edition’ of the trailblazing film documenting 1958’s Newport Jazz Festival

Bert Stern’s attentive ‘Jazz on a Summer's Day’ camera catches an audience member during Thelonious Monk’s set

When Jazz on a Summer's Day was first seen in American cinemas in March 1960, it showed that seeing popular music live could be a leisure activity akin to watching high-end sports. Indeed, director Bert Stern intercut the musical performances he captured on film with footage of yachts trying-out for 1958’s America’s Cup. The audience at Rhode Island’s July 1958 Newport Jazz Festival were caught in the congenial surroundings of the Freebody Park over the event’s four days expressing their appreciation in, generally, a reserved and grown-up fashion.

Chuck Berry, who played Newport on the Saturday, must have noticed the difference between this and his usual shows. He may have also realised the film was radically different to the cash-in music films of the day like 1957’s Mister Rock ‘and Roll and 1959’s Go, Johnny, Go!, in both of which he featured.

jazz on a summer's day 60th Anniversary Special Edition  coverJazz on a Summer's Day was the popular music era’s first of what would be recognised as the concert film; one as much about the event and audience as who was on the stage. The mise-en-scène was, literally, defined by the event itself. In due course, Festival (focusing on the 1963-1965 Newport folk festivals), Monterey Pop and Woodstock would be cut from the same cloth. A template had been defined.

The guiding hand behind the agenda-setting Jazz on a Summer's Day was photographer Bert Stern. It became his only film. He was, though, on the cinema scene though his acquaintance with Stanley Kubrick for whom he took the photograph used for the poster promoting Lolita. He also worked as an on-set photographer as well as undertaking work for advertising and fashion, and took portrait shots. His precision defined the ethos which Jazz on a Summer's Day promulgated: music as a lifestyle adjunct. It is one of the most important music films.

A chance to become reacquainted with the film has arrived with the release of what’s dubbed the Jazz on a Summer's Day 60th Anniversary Special Edition. The casebound package includes the film plus extras on a DVD, the music on one CD and also on two 10-inch albums. On the face of it, this is an added-vinyl version of the similar 2015 edition which included just a DVD and CD. Fred Dellar's liner notes from that version are reused in the new package. However, the fresh version has a newly authored DVD of the film which is a wee bit more crisp sonically and visually than the 2015 version, and the CD and vinyl both have a just-detectable greater depth and clarity than three years ago.

jazz on a summer's day 60th Anniversary Special Edition  chuck berryFor Stern, what ended up in his film was a broad-brush snapshot of the festival. Wonderful performances by Louis Armstrong, Chuck Berry (pictured left), Big Maybelle, Anita O'Day, Mahalia Jackson, Thelonious Monk, Gerry Mulligan, George Shearing and Dinah Washington made the cut. Ray Charles, Duke Ellington, Chico Hamilton, who also performed at the festival, did not end up on screen.

Although Stern found he did not have enough shots of the audience and recreated some fitting after-the-fact footage, what was captured with the on-the-ground cameras is fascinating. The audience was mixed in various ways: black and white; male and female. Due to the contemporary nature of non-formal attire, the social status of the crowd members is hard to deduce but it looks as if the audience was not exclusive: exclusive in terms of being limited to those with deep pockets.

Most of all though, Stern showed that jazz and a pinch of rock ‘n’ roll could sit comfortably in a non-hyped up environment: effectively, an adult environment. In this, he presciently telegraphed where the economy of popular music would be going. More than a great film and a record of fine live music, Jazz on a Summer's Day is a very important socio-cultural document which needs to be seen.

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