Jazz On A
Summer's Day" will recharge your batteries
One of the joys of going out to clubs is watching a musician work. A lot of my friends
like to dance, but I never learned it properly, having always been on the bandstand and
sweating out solos for a lot of folks who weren't paying attention anyway.
Sadly, the jazz club scene in my part of the world tends to be given over to dancing, and
that worries me, because the respect that even mediocre musicians used to command in, say,
the heady days of 1960s rock, has declined and a lot of great talent is going unheard and
And the movies haven't helped much, though the occasional "Bird" or "Round
Midnight" -- the latter with the stunning performance of Dexter Gordon as a
down-and-out American tenor man in Paris -- will show up on the scene, and the film
watcher will be treated to the sight of real musicans playing real music instead of the
Central Casting motion-synchers who always look so phony on the screen.
The best of all, of course, is the occasional television news report of the various music
festivals that spring up in the Western Hemisphere at this time of year. And, though it
doesn't really exist anymore, the Newport Jazz Festival is the forerunner of just about
all important celebrations of jazz, except Mardi Gras.
Filmmaker Bert Stern hauled his crews into Newport, R.I., for a weekend during the 1958
festival that coincided with a regatta, and the film he created bounces back and forth
between sailing competitions and compelling performances by a roster of jazz giants.
Here we find Jimmy Giuffre opening the film with his classically influenced jazz fugues
and rondos, while an enthusiastic band of young New Orleans traditionalists speed into
town, stuffed into a topless flivver, nearly crowded from the car by the string bass,
which forces its player to hang the instrument precariously outside the vehicle. As they
make their way into the city to the strains of "When The Saints Go Marching In,"
they confound the bewildered dowagers of Newport, who are stuck inside chauffeur-driven
flivvers of their own as the influx overtakes the means of the city to accommodate all the
people. Shades of Woodstock!
But the occasionally humorous -- and, I suspect, staged -- circumstances and the
irritating jumps to the regatta are more than mitigated by the music.
Thelonious Monk, wearing a pair of what must then have been very hip horn-rimmed
sunglasses, delivers "Blue Monk" and shows his belief in what he's created by
almost ignoring the other musicians and the audience as well.
George Shearing joyfully attacks his keyboard and his face, alight with delight, is seen
in audience shots as well, as he proves his love for as well as his proficiency with the
music. The Chico Hamilton Quintet gets serious and very sweaty. A boyish and cowlicked
Gerry Mulligan turns his set almost into a jam session, helping earn for him the opinion
of jazz critic Whitney Bailliet, who once wrote that Mulligan would stop for a jam with a
bush full of crickets, so committed was he to jazz.
Louis Armstrong and Jack Teagarden do their humorous turn with "Rocking Chair"
then tear the house down with "Tiger Rag." Big Maybelle takes us to the bottom
of the gut bucket with the blues and Mahalia Jackson, God bless her, closes the show with
as moving a solo version of "The Lord's Prayer" as I've ever heard.
There are many more: Sonny Stitt, Sal Salvador, Bob Brookmeyer, Ben Webster, Dinah
Perhaps the oddest marriage in the film is that of Chuck Berry with a drummer, acoustic
bassist and clarinet (!). The man on the licorice stick brings all his New Orleans savvy
to bear as Chuck performs "Sweet Little Sixteen," but I think even Chuck knew he
shouldn't have been there in the first place. Still, it is a curiosity worth preserving.
In the audience, one can see Mitch Miller, he of "Sing Along With ..." fame and,
at the time, head of Columbia Records, schmoozing. Beat Generation poet Gregory Corso sits
rapt and attentive. And unknown thousands who came into town drank their beer, ate their
hot dogs and spent that very sunny weekend with a huge stable of the greats.
The film has been shown at least once on the A&E television network in the United
States, but it was cut up to make room for commercial advertising, and I have not seen the
uncut film in any video store I've ever visited. If any of my readers know of an outlet
for the film, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the meantime, I recommend that you drop whatever you're doing if you encounter a
showing on late-night TV or at some local or regional jazz or film festival. It's a piece
of jazz history that is sheer delight to rediscover.