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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
Partly a jazz concert and partly a time capsule to a long ago era, "Jazz On A Summer's Day" records highlights of the four-day, 1958 festival held in Newport, Rhode Island. The film gets off to a slow start, with interviews of arriving audience, shots of Newport, and cutaways to the America's Cup yacht race, taking place concurrently.
About nine minutes into the film, the real program begins. The brilliant Thelonious Monk plays "Blue Monk" on the keys. From here on, most of the audio and visuals focus on the festival itself, except for brief visual cuts to the sailing event and impromptu shots of people enjoying themselves in presumably nearby locales. Although the film title says "day", about two-thirds of the film is shot at night.
Different styles of jazz provide ample variety, and run the gamut from an apparently unrelated boarding house jam session to the rockin', soul-stirring gospel music of Mahalia Jackson, who forcefully belts out three numbers at the end. Louis Armstrong and rarely filmed trombone legend Jack Teagarden perform a casual, seemingly improv vocal of "Old Rocking Chair". Dinah Washington singing "All Of Me", and the unusual percussion sounds of the Chico Hamilton Quintet are also quite good. But my personal favorite was Chuck Berry and band with a slowed down, beat thumpin' rendition of "Sweet Little Sixteen".
My only serious complaint is the film's editing, which includes the sailing event and quite a few extraneous visuals, and a too-brief overall runtime. A three-hour total jazz event would have been ideal.
The overall mood of the concert is upbeat, almost carnivalesque. The camera jumps back and forth between on-stage performers and audience reaction. Everyone seems to be having a good time. Glad to see this film recognized by the National Film Registry, to preserve an account of a unique event, held at a crucial moment in American history.
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