Back when cats wore hats, stills photographer Bert Stern, fresh from his famous shoot with Marilyn Monroe in the buff, went off to the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival and made a film about Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, George Shearing, Dinah Washington, Anita O’Day, Mahalia Jackson, Jack Teagarden, Gerry Mulligan, and even Chuck Berry, as they displayed their formidable talents and charismas for the moneyed and honeyed of Rhode Island. It is the only film Stern ever made and the result is a colourful impressionistic blur – the musicians are at their relaxed best, and the audience is no less entertaining, decked out in what looks now like the finest retro-chic hip, all digging that jazz vibe, daddio. Meanwhile, in the background and adding another layer of cool and cash, the America’s Cup is being raced just off the coast.
The title is a lie, incidentally, since the film was shot over a weekend, but what’s the odd day or so when you’re talking about the best jazz film ever made, which is how Jazz on a Summer’s Day is frequently described. And that’s probably for two reasons – because of Stern’s eye for an image and because of the musicians on display. We’ll never see their like again.
© Steve Morrissey 2013