Jazz on a Summer’s Day
DIRECTOR: Aram Avakian, Bert Stern | WRITERS: Albert D’Annibale, Arnold Perl | PERFORMERS: Louis Armstrong, Mahalia Jackson, Gerry Mulligan, Dinah Washington, Chico Hamilton, Anita O’Day, George Shearing, Jimmy Giuffre, Chuck Berry, Jack Teagarden, Thelonious Monk,Big Maybelle, Sonny Stitt, Eli’s Chosen Six, David Baily, Danny Barcelona, Bob Brookmeyer, Buck Clayton, Bill Crow, Eric Dolphy, Art Farmer, Harold Gaylor, Nathan Gershman, Terry Gibbs, Urbie Green, Henry Grimes, Jim Hall, Peanuts Hucko, Jo Jones, Ray Mosca, Armando Peraza, Max Roach, Rudy Rutherford, Sal Salvador, Willis Conover | USA
For all its reputation as a groundbreaking musical documentary, Jazz on a Summer’s Day is a frustrating tease, intercutting splendid footage of artists performing on stage at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival with all sorts of extraneous filler including time trials for the concurrent America Cup sailboat race and vignettes of life in town. Aram Avakian and Bert Stern only shot artists from whom they’d secured the rights and then only from a discreet distance off-stage, but the look they achieved with a long still lens on the camera and reversed backlighting is absolutely gorgeous: slightly grainy with rich, saturated color. There is no narration and performers are identified only by the actual onstage MCs which emphasizes the relaxed nature of the festival itself, and Avakian and Stern were wise to show each of the artists performing a number all the way through, or at least finishing a song they’d cut into, instead of cutting away in the middle of a song to go onto something else. I can’t say that all of the performers were of equal interest to me, but the high points are very high indeed, and the movie justifies its existence with the eight minutes given over to the great Anita O’Day.