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Set at the Newport jazz festival in 1958, this documentary mixes images of water and the town with performers and audience. The film progresses from day to night and from improvisational music to Gospel. It's a concert film that suggests peace and leisure, jazz at a particular time and place. Written by
A hefty dose of nostalgia for the end of an era of jazz
Bert Stern captures the Newport Jazz festival of 1958 in vivid color and with clarity. While jazz is the primary focus of the film, Stern does meander to the America's Cup race that was being contested off Newport at the time, along with some diversionary local flavor, which gives us a sense of what it was like to actually be there. Continuing along this vein, during the festival itself, Stern spends much of his camera time observing the audience caught unaware reacting to jazz on a summer day; after all, live music does not exist in a vacuum. It's this footage along with the incredible jazz music that makes this documentary really special. As a viewer we get to react to the music, and react to the audience reacting to the music. That girl with the seductively cute smile in the yellow dress, and that gruff man hiding behind the shades with the nervous twitch are people that we can connect to from our own personal experiences at open air summer concerts. The feeling of community one gets as the music breaks down the barriers and the sun begins to set. Stern allows his moving compositions to develop and flesh out the character of his subjects, giving us a nostalgic feeling for a time gone by that may have occurred long before we were even born. It does not matter because we are there! But this particular slice of time has special significance, because jazz would soon be replaced in popularity by Rock & Roll. We watch it happen before our eyes as a young Chuck Berry takes the stage. Backed by some excellent jazz musicians, all looking "amused" but not taking very seriously the music that would knock them off the charts for good within a couple of years. As Berry's classic Rock & Roll riffs project across the audience, young people spontaneously jump to their feet and start moving to the rhythm while their parents watch, perplexed.
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