One of the earliest concert movies, Jazz on a Summer’s Day captures the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival and proves that audience members obnoxiously photographing concerts that are being filmed is not a new phenomenon.
Joyful performances by Louis Armstrong, Gerry Mulligan and Thelonious Monk in the coolest pair of sunglasses are jubilantly set against a sunny festival backdrop, beautifully shot and edited by Aram Avakian and Bert Stern, best known for his fashion photography and portraits of Marilyn Monroe.
This lends the picture great sartorial interest, impressionistically cutting between the music, candid footage of an audience unused to being filmed, and stunning aerial shots of the neighbouring America’s Cup yacht races. As a combination of concert and sport it’s essentially Pearl Jam: Let’s Play Two but with bigger hats.
The atmosphere is closer to Wimbledon than Woodstock, the mixed line-up hardly reflected in the wealthy white audience. Where Bird and Round Midnight depict the jazz struggle, the only struggle here is among audience members failing to eat ice cream or drink beer. It might also be one of the world’s earliest fail videos.
As well as showcasing bebop legends like Sonny Stitt, Max Roach and Art Farmer, the musical direction by Columbia Records’ George Avakian gives a sense of jazz’s breadth and evolution, featuring gospel (Mahalia Jackson), rock and roll (Chuck Berry) and the sweatiest cello recital ever put to film. Eli’s Chosen Six also drive around playing Dixieland in a convertible.
At just 85 minutes, it’s a shame we miss out on other acts (Miles Davis, Duke Ellington and Horace Silver also played) but this breeziness aids its summery atmosphere. The movie feels like The Last Waltz of jazz, an all-star parade of genius musicians, wonderful singers and snappy dressers snapping their fingers and yes, their cameras.