Movie of the Week: Jazz on A Summer’s Day (1959)

Bert Stern directs Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk and Mahalia Jackson in this concert movie capturing the performances, audiences and atmosphere of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival.

A heavenly tapestry of cool music, unaware spectators captured in the wild and slightly too obviously staged summer partying. This film celebrates the heat and bonhomie of watching live music and the freedom which summer weekends gift us all. The footage is shown without commentary or narration… the mood is the context. We get a rich overview of jazz in all its variations; chatty superstar Louis Armstrong, a showstopper by Dinah Washington, the intense marathon drumming of Chico Hamilton, this beautiful moment. You can feel the practice, concentration, daring, sweat and pleasure in the inspirational performances. Yet, as if this wasn’t enough, it is the candid shots of the crowds that truly make Jazz On a Summer’s Day THE perfect concert film. There’s plenty of footage of toetapping, finger clicking, awe and spontaneous dancing. Whether toddlers or people born in the 1800’s there are faces overcome with joy at what is happening on stage. There’s also scowling, napping and plenty of snacking. It is an honest portrait of who showed up for the event. In the daytime the blacks and whites feel separated, by night those unofficial lines of segregation (no doubt psychological rather than officially mandated) begin to blur. This film is a marvel, a magical time capsule… it will thrill jazz fans and time travellers alike.


My Top 10 Movies With Jazz Soundtracks

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