THE DOZENS: JAZZ ON A SUMMER'S DAY by Alan Kurtz



During the 1950s, the Newport Jazz Festival was an outdoor jamboree held in the exclusive environs of Rhode Island’s summer resort for the eastern elite. Jazz’s half-century rise from the bawdy houses of New Orleans to the bathhouses of Newport was a story made in media heaven, providing irresistible fodder for journalists. Covering the NJF’s 1954 debut for The Saturday Review, Whitney Balliett allowed, with country-club gentility, “It will be good to see a second festival next year, for jazz goes well with sea air, trees, history, and the haut monde.”

Well, not only was there a second shindig, the NJF turned into a summertime staple, trotting dozens of musical acts before thousands of vacationers every July 4th holiday. By 1958’s fifth annual NJF, 10,000 visitors had become customary. That year, though, visitor 10,001 made history. Bert Stern, a 28-year-old fashion, glamour and advertising photographer, arrived from Manhattan to fulfill his lifelong ambition: to produce a movie before he was 30.

Fielding five cameras simultaneously, some handheld and with telephoto lenses, and using the finest 35mm Kodak fast positive-reversal color film, Stern captured brilliant images that, as he said, “just jumped off the screen.” Moreover, Stern reveled in his venue. “Usually jazz films are all black and white,” he later remarked, “kind of depressing and in little downstairs nightclubs. This brought jazz out into the sun. It was different.”

Also different was the high-fidelity audio, recorded on monaural analog tape by Columbia Records and synchronized with the film during postproduction. This roundabout and complicated process actually represented a huge advance over such prototypes as Jammin’ the Blues (1944), a smoky, 10-minute simulation of informal small group jazz. Despite its striking B&W cinematography, Jammin’ the Blues was exasperating because its stars were expected to synch their onscreen movements with prerecorded music—an impossible task for improvisers. Bert Stern must be commended for rejecting that outmoded approach. But his editor, Aram Avakian, deserves equal credit for meticulously matching Stern’s images with the separately recorded sound.

There was, however, a catch. Stern had persuaded George Avakian, Aram’s brother and a Columbia Records executive, to deploy his company’s resources in audio-taping the onstage performances. In return, George literally called the shots as to which numbers would be filmed. Since Stern himself was no jazz fan, his misplaced trust led to such glaring omissions as:

     Willie “the Lion” Smith playing “Echoes of Spring

     Ben Webster & Billy Strayhorn presenting “Chelsea Bridge” in honor of Duke Ellington

     Dave Brubeck Quartet offering “Jump for Joy” in similar tribute

     Duke Ellington and Orchestra with special guest Gerry Mulligan premiering “Prima Bara Dubla

     Marian McPartland with special guest Gerry Mulligan jamming on “C Jam Blues

     Lester Young in his final Newport appearance

     Sonny Rollins sporting a photogenic new Mohawk haircut and leading a pianoless trio

     Horace Silver Quintet (all with conventional haircuts) doing “Señor Blues

     Ray Charles attempting “The Spirit-Feel

     Miles Davis Sextet performing “Fran-Dance

Yes, the last-named unit—featuring Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane and Bill Evans—was the same supergroup as would eight months later record Kind of Blue and of which no motion picture or video footage now exists. Newbie filmmaker Stern was richly served by his editor, Aram Avakian, but poorly advised by Aram’s brother George as to which artists to film.

In any case, Stern’s feature-length documentary Jazz on a Summer’s Day (released in 1960), is now recognized as a cinematic landmark, blazing a trail for the entire concert-film genre and spawning such vérité classics as Monterey Pop (1968) and Woodstock (1970). On the 50th anniversary of the event it so gloriously celebrates, Jazz.com salutes Jazz on a Summer’s Day with individual track reviews of its 12 principal performances. We think our occasional irreverence is right in the spirit of this classic film, which seems only to grow in charm with each passing year.


Jimmy Giuffre: The Train and The River (live at Newport, 1958)

Track

The Train and The River (1958)

Group

Jimmy Giuffre 3

CD

Jazz On A Summer's Day (original soundtrack) (Snapper/Charly 191)

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Musicians:

Jimmy Giuffre (clarinet, tenor & baritone saxes), Bob Brookmeyer (valve trombone), Jim Hall (guitar).

Composed by Jimmy Giuffre

.

Recorded: live at Newport Jazz Festival, RI, July 4, 1958

Albumcovervariousartists-jazzonasummersday-originalsoundtrack

Rating: 91/100 (learn more)

On its face, the Jimmy Giuffre 3 playing their signature contrapuntal folk-jazz opus "The Train and The River" seems an oddly low-key opener for Jazz on a Summer's Day (1960), Bert Stern's documentary of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. For that matter, Giuffre's drummerless chamber jazz seemed as ill-suited to the NJF's open-air park on a balmy summer afternoon as a string quartet at Yankee Stadium. Yet the filmmaker's instinct proved canny. By not showing the musicians until two minutes into the performance, Stern not only teases us with an appealing tune underneath his main titles, but actually builds suspense as to when or even if the players will appear onscreen. Finally they do, and in close-up at that—so close up, in fact, that guitarist Jim Hall goes unseen until the track concludes and he rises to take a bow. Otherwise, Stern holds a single shot of Giuffre bobbing and weaving with his tenor sax, as Bob Brookmeyer hovers behind him in a supporting role, for a remarkable 2½ minutes.

Rendering this piece on the previous year's CBS telecast The Sound of Jazz, Giuffre's trio consisted of clarinet/sax, guitar and bass. Six months later, the bass had been replaced by valve trombone, creating one of the most unusual instrumentations in jazz history. While the audio on this 2004 CD is erratic (it sounds better on the actual movie soundtrack), anyone wishing to concentrate on the music can do so sans artsy images of reflections in marina water. With or without pictures, "The Train and The River" is one of the finest 1950s jazz compositions, and this live performance on the 4th of July glitters like the first sparklers at twilight.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Thelonious Monk: Blue Monk (live at Newport, 1958)

Track

Blue Monk (1958)

Artist

Thelonious Monk (piano)

CD

Jazz On A Summer's Day (original soundtrack) (Snapper/Charly 191)

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Musicians:

Thelonious Monk (piano), Henry Grimes (bass), Roy Haynes (drums).

Composed by Thelonious Monk

.

Recorded: live at Newport Jazz Festival, RI, July 6, 1958

Albumcovervariousartists-jazzonasummersday-originalsoundtrack

Rating: 80/100 (learn more)

The most frequently criticized sequence in Jazz on a Summer's Day, Bert Stern's documentary of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, is Thelonious Monk's performance of "Blue Monk."  Like Jimmy Giuffre before him, Monk repeats a tune he'd played on the previous year's CBS telecast The Sound of Jazz. Monk even sports the same bamboo-framed sunglasses outdoors in July as he'd worn in the TV studio the prior December.

The criticism, though, is never directed at Monk, but rather at the filmmaker for relegating the pianist to background music for distracting aerial shots of the America's Cup trials, filmed by Stern leaning out of a rented Piper Cub over the waters off Newport and proving once again Damon Runyon's timeless axiom that viewing a yacht race is like watching grass grow. Even more annoying than the lumbering boats, however, is the fact that much of Monk's solo is obscured by a nautical sportscaster jabbering from his perch on the bridge of the U.S. Destroyer William R. Rush, strategically deployed at taxpayer expense within 200 yards of the starting line. (Did they fear a British Royal Navy sub might torpedo Columbia, the ultimately victorious New York Yacht Club entry?)

Unfortunately for purists, the original soundtrack CD provides not a pristine "Blue Monk," but a badly mangled compromise. In the process of mercifully stripping the inane prattle from this track, 16 bars of Monk's solo have been mislaid! In lieu of the movie's seven choruses, the CD contains a choppy five and two-thirds choruses—which ain't exactly what God had in mind when He gave Moses the 12-bar blues. Consequently, among the more than two dozen recordings of "Blue Monk" that its composer left us, this track in its present form must rank near the bottom. This criticism, though, is not directed at Thelonious, but towards those who treat his legacy with such disrespect.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Sonny Stitt & Sal Salvador: Loose Walk

Track

Loose Walk

Artist

Sonny Stitt (tenor sax) and Sal Salvador (guitar)

CD

Jazz On A Summer's Day (original soundtrack) (Snapper/Charly 191)

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Musicians:

Sonny Stitt (tenor sax), Sal Salvador (guitar),

Gildo Mahones (piano), Martin Rivera (bass), Louis Hayes (drums)

.

Composed by Sonny Stitt

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Recorded: live at Newport Jazz Festival, RI, July 6, 1958

Albumcovervariousartists-jazzonasummersday-originalsoundtrack

Rating: 86/100 (learn more)

"Loose Walk" begins with Sonny Stitt in mid-solo. No, the musicians did not forget the opening. Filmmaker Bert Stern left it on the cutting-room floor for his documentary of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, Jazz on a Summer's Day (1960). And since this is the Original Soundtrack, that's all we get. It's a shame because, judging from his extant three choruses, Stitt was hotter than the noonday sun.

Guitarist Sal Salvador fared better than his co-star. Sal's 8-chorus solo is intact. (Assuming that the two frontline players took solos of equal length, which is usually the case during such loosely organized jams, that means nearly two-thirds of Stitt's solo is missing.) Except for his 1952-53 stint with Stan Kenton's New Concepts of Artistry in Rhythm, Salvador maintained a low profile throughout a career that spanned five decades, spent mostly in New England. But, as he shows here, Sal was a fine technician who could execute single-note lines with grace and imagination.

The head—heard only at track's end—was previously recorded by Clifford Brown & Max Roach as "The Blues Walk" (1955). According to Verve's 2000 reissue thereof, the tune originated with altoist Chris Woods, who recorded it in 1952; issued years later, it was wryly titled "Somebody Done Stole My Blues." In honor of Sonny Stitt, perhaps this track should also be retitled: "Somebody Done Stole My Solo."

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Anita O'Day: Tea for Two

Track

Tea for Two

Artist

Anita O'Day (vocals)

CD

Jazz On A Summer's Day (original soundtrack) (Snapper/Charly 191)

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Musicians:

Anita O'Day (vocals),

Jimmy Jones (piano), Whitey Mitchell (bass), John Poole (drums)

.

Composed by Vincent Youmans & Irving Caesar

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Recorded: live at Newport Jazz Festival, RI, July 6, 1958

Albumcovervariousartists-jazzonasummersday-originalsoundtrack

Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

Anita O'Day

Looking like a grande dame in Vogue, singing like a dame outa Down Beat, Anita O'Day walked away with Jazz on a Summer's Day (1960). The documentary of 1958's Newport Jazz Festival should have been called Jazz on a Summer's O'Day.

"I was scheduled for 5 o'clock in the afternoon," Miss O'Day recounts in her autobiography, "and I asked myself what to wear. 'It's teatime,' I told the Italian lady who ran a dress shop in Greenwich Village. She brought out this black dress, trimmed with white. We both knew it was right, but I asked what I could wear on my head. She went into the back room and came out with a black cartwheel, trimmed with white feathers. Both went with my see-through, plastic pumps and for a fun touch I added short white gloves."

After flicking mud from an earlier rain off her shoe, a tightly hemmed Anita wriggled on stage and squinted at the crowd. "Performing in the afternoon was a bonus," she recalled, "because I could see the audience. I spotted Chris Connor out there." Like O'Day, Connor had served a stretch as Stan Kenton's vocalist. "That was good," Anita thought, "because I can make my performance the way I want it to be when I know some of the audience digs what I'm doing and I can relate to them."

She related with what amounts to a clinic on jazz singing, in particular wowing the crowd with her up-tempo take on the 1925 chestnut "Tea for Two." Blazing through the lyrics, Anita treats both melody and rhythm to a complete makeover, exercising the unbridled flair of an interior decorator given carte blanche by a client with deep pockets. Following a short piano solo, Anita switches to scat, trading fours with Poole's wire-brushed drums. To conclude, Anita amuses the audience by exchanging wordless quotes with her trio from "Flip Top," a favorite '50s TV jingle. "You get a lot to like with a Marlboro," the original assured. "Filter, flavor, flip-top box." In those halcyon days, cigarette jingles were considered harmless fun. Fifty years later, coffin-nail jingles are thankfully a thing of the past. Anita O'Day, though, is as much fun as ever.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


George Shearing: George in Brazil

Track

George in Brazil

Artist

George Shearing (piano)

CD

Jazz On A Summer's Day (soundtrack) (Great Movie Themes 60039)

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Musicians:

George Shearing (piano), Emil Richards (vibes), 'Toots' Thielemans (guitar), Armando Peraza (congas),

unidentified bassist and drummer

.

Composed by George Shearing

.

Recorded: live at Newport Jazz Festival, RI, July 6, 1958

Albumcoverjazzonasummersday-greatmoviethemes

Rating: 82/100 (learn more)

The producers of this CD faced a Hobson's choice. In Jazz on a Summer's Day (1960), Bert Stern's documentary of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, the sequence "George in Brazil" runs slightly more than two minutes. Even at that, it's only a fragment of the original performance. To make matters worse, the soundtrack's first 40 seconds contain voiceovers that for technical reasons could not be erased from atop the underlying music. The dilemma, then, was whether to retain the voiceovers, to which musical purists would surely object, or trim the track to a scanty 1½ minutes. The producers elected to trim.

Bad decision. Of course, the voiceovers are still in the movie. But missing from the CD is the delightful Donna Larsen, roving radio reporter. "What do they say," Donna asks her unseen listeners rhetorically, "the joint is really jumping? I think that's kind of passé by now." If not, it became so at that moment. She goes on to interview NJF co-director Elaine Lorillard, then married to a descendant of Pierre Lorillard, founder of the Lorillard Tobacco Company. Only a year earlier, Lorillard had introduced its best-selling Newport brand of menthol cigarettes. "I brought along a heavy leather coat," gushes chatterbox Donna, "and I don't think I'm going to need it at all." Mrs. Lorillard, her upper-crust baritone hinting that she may have already smoked a few too many packs of her family's products, readily concurs. "No, I don't think so, either." Naturally she pronounces it eye-ther. "I have a sweater that I've tucked away in my bag."

Believe it or not, this banal banter is actually more entertaining than "George in Brazil," which so belabors a simple vamp that you wish Elaine Lorillard had tucked away some extra chord changes in her bag, right next to that sweater she didn't need.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Dinah Washington: All of Me

Track

All of Me

Group

Terry Gibbs Sextet

CD

Jazz On A Summer's Day (original soundtrack) (Snapper/Charly 191)

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Musicians:

Dinah Washington (vocals, vibes), Terry Gibbs (vibes), Urbie Green (trombone), Wynton Kelly (piano), Max Roach (drums),

Don Elliott (mellophone), Paul West (bass)

.

Composed by Gerald Marks & Seymour Simons

.

Recorded: live at Newport Jazz Festival, RI, July 6, 1958

Albumcovervariousartists-jazzonasummersday-originalsoundtrack

Rating: 85/100 (learn more)

It's easy to see why novice filmmaker (and non-jazz fan) Bert Stern picked "All of Me" instead of a different Dinah Washington number for Jazz on a Summer's Day (1960), his documentary of 1958's Newport Jazz Festival. Having belted the opening chorus with customary gusto, Dinah steps aside for most of Terry Gibbs's ensuing solo, only to mischievously butt in near the end for some 4-handed vibes frivolity that's as visually entertaining as it is musically negligible. Strictly for listening, however, this track has less to recommend. Max Roach rushes the tempo as the second chorus begins, and Urbie Green's throwback trombone solo, while technically admirable, makes you wonder why J.J. Johnson wasn't at Newport that year.

Another track from the same day, though, shows Miss Washington at her brash best. "Backwater Blues," a tribute to its composer, Bessie Smith, is Dinah-mite with the fuse lit. Backed only by Roach, bassist West and the extraordinary Wynton Kelly on piano, Dinah does her precursor proud. If Bessie was Empress of the Blues, Dinah was the Doyenne of Delight.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Gerry Mulligan: Catch As Catch Can

Track

Catch As Catch Can

Artist

Gerry Mulligan (baritone sax))

CD

Jazz On A Summer's Day (original soundtrack) (Snapper/Charly 191)

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Musicians:

Gerry Mulligan (baritone sax)), Art Farmer (trumpet), Bill Crow (bass), Dave Bailey (drums).

Composed by Gerry Mulligan

.

Recorded: live at Newport Jazz Festival, RI, July 5, 1958

Albumcovervariousartists-jazzonasummersday-originalsoundtrack

Rating: 85/100 (learn more)

It takes cheek to show up in New England on the Fourth of July sporting a red blazer. Yet as shown by Jazz on a Summer's Day (1960), Bert Stern's documentary of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, Gerry Mulligan had cheek aplenty. Less than two hours' ride from Lexington and Concord, the red-coated redhead charged in leading his pianoless quartet, a formation he'd commanded for most of the 1950s. Significantly, though, this edition was so raw that Farmer, Crow and Bailey had by then engaged in but a single rehearsal with the lanky baritonist. To make matters worse, Mulligan's musical material was as ill-chosen as his uniform color. Disdaining the sound advice of 1957's teen hit "Rock and Roll Music," Mulligan tries to play his tricky, up-tempo original "As Catch Can" too darn fast—Chuck Berry's only kick, after all, against modern jazz. Raggedness predictably ensues. Indeed, a short drum break following Farmer's leadoff solo so boggles the beat that the band sputters like an engine about to stall. Mulligan quickly takes charge, wresting the engine back on track through the sheer willpower of his playing. It's an impressive rescue, but doesn't absolve the redcoat general of under-drilling his green troops. To hear how "As Catch Can" was meant to be executed, check out the same group's spit-&-polish studio performance recorded five months later.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Big Maybelle: I Ain't Mad at You

Track

I Ain't Mad at You

Artist

Big Maybelle (vocals)

CD

Jazz On A Summer's Day (original soundtrack) (Snapper/Charly 191)

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Musicians:

Big Maybelle (vocals), Buck Clayton (trumpet), Jo Jones (drums),

Jack Teagarden (trombone), Tony Scott (clarinet), Buddy Tate, Rudy Rutherford, Georgie Auld (saxes), Ray Bryant (piano), Kenny Burrell (guitar), Tommy Bryant (bass)

.

Traditional

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Recorded: live at Newport Jazz Festival, RI, July 5, 1958

Albumcovervariousartists-jazzonasummersday-originalsoundtrack

Rating: 80/100 (learn more)

In a typically misguided attempt at crossover appeal, the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival strayed far afield (and went far awry) with blues shouter Big Maybelle. Judging from Bert Stern's documentary Jazz on a Summer's Day (1960), the personable performer pleased the crowd. But of course holiday jazz-fest attendees have never been notably discerning. The ad hoc backup band manages to swing without an arrangement, and Buck Clayton's trumpet solo is presentable enough. Yet there's no escaping the vocalist, who sounds like she'd gargled with Dr?no before stepping onstage. We'll never know how many moviegoers in 1960, or VHS and DVD viewers in subsequent decades, naïvely mistook "I Ain't Mad at You" for jazz simply because it's part of Jazz on a Summer's Day. But this track has less to do with jazz than snowballs do with July.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Chuck Berry: Sweet Little Sixteen

Track

Sweet Little Sixteen

Artist

Chuck Berry (vocals, electric guitar)

CD

Jazz On A Summer's Day (original soundtrack) (Snapper/Charly 191)

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Musicians:

Chuck Berry (vocals, electric guitar), Rudy Rutherford (clarinet), Jo Jones (drums),

Tommy Bryant (bass)

.

Composed by Chuck Berry

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Recorded: live at Newport Jazz Festival, RI, July 5, 1958

Albumcovervariousartists-jazzonasummersday-originalsoundtrack

Rating: 81/100 (learn more)

Impresario George Wein believed that if each major jazz style (traditional, swing, modern) could attract a small audience, then a festival presenting all those styles ought to draw decent numbers. Moreover, if the playbill were expanded beyond jazz, why, enough fannies to fill an outdoor venue might materialize! Accordingly, the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, subject of Bert Stern's documentary Jazz on a Summer's Day (1960), booked Hail Hail Rock 'n' Roller Chuck Berry. When the brown-eyed handsome man blew into town in a purple Cadillac with a pair of white girls at his side, he raised more than a few eyebrows. In tony 1950s Rhode Island, purple Cadillacs were considered inexcusably gauche.

Onstage, the Rock 'n' Roller was accompanied, more or less, by a pickup group of Swing Era jazzmen who mostly stood around with thumbs up their behinds looking bewildered and patronizing—the latter being especially unwarranted considering their ineptitude backing "Sweet Little Sixteen," Berry's sly variant of Nabokov's Lolita (1955). Journeyman clarinetist Rudy Rutherford at least tries to get in the spirit, but his strident solo is embarrassing proof that jazzmen were as clueless about youth music as Humbert Humbert was about the laws governing statutory rape.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Chico Hamilton: Blue Sands

Track

Blue Sands

Group

Chico Hamilton Quintet

CD

Jazz On A Summer's Day (original soundtrack) (Snapper/Charly 191)

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Musicians:

Chico Hamilton (drums), Eric Dolphy (flute), John Pisano (guitar),

Nate Gershman (cello), Hal Gaylor (bass)

.

Composed by Buddy Collette

.

Recorded: live at Newport Jazz Festival, RI, July 6, 1958

Albumcovervariousartists-jazzonasummersday-originalsoundtrack

Rating: 88/100 (learn more)

"Blue Sands," composed by flutist/saxophonist Buddy Collette for the original Chico Hamilton Quintet (1955), was part of a long tradition of jazz exotica dating at least as far back as Ellington's "Caravan" (1936). In 1956, Collette recorded an especially insinuating "Blue Sands" with The Lighthouse All-Stars, featuring Bob Cooper's atmospheric oboe. In Chico Hamilton's band, however, "Blue Sands" became a set piece showcasing the leader's mallets on tom-toms, where he would tenaciously repeat a single rhythmic pattern, maintaining hypnotic interest merely by varying dynamic level. This display would go on at length and, like all drum solos, was fascinating to watch but less entrancing on a record, absent its visual flair.

By 1958's Newport Jazz Festival, where "Blue Sands" was preserved for posterity in filmmaker Bert Stern's documentary Jazz on a Summer's Day (1960), Chico Hamilton must have performed this tune hundreds of times, necessitating untold thousands of repetitions of that single rhythmic pattern. Amazingly, under the circumstances, the piece retains considerable excitement. Moreover, it served as an icebreaker for such later explorations of monotony as John Coltrane's "My Favorite Things" (1960). Casually listen once or twice, and you won't get it. Put it on automatic repeat, and gradually—indeed, almost imperceptibly—you'll be as surely sucked in as a probe approaching a black hole. And we all know what lies at the center of a black hole. Blue sands.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Louis Armstrong: Rockin' Chair

Track

Rockin' Chair

Artist

Louis Armstrong (vocals, trumpet)

CD

Jazz On A Summer's Day (original soundtrack) (Snapper/Charly 191)

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Musicians:

Louis Armstrong (vocals, trumpet), Jack Teagarden (vocals, trombone),

Bobby Hackett (cornet), Trummy Young (trombone), Peanuts Hucko (clarinet), Billy Kyle (piano), Mort Herbert (bass), Danny Barcelona (drums)

.

Composed by Hoagy Carmichael

.

Recorded: live at Newport Jazz Festival, RI, July 6, 1958

Albumcovervariousartists-jazzonasummersday-originalsoundtrack

Rating: 98/100 (learn more)

The costliest part of Jazz on a Summer's Day (1960), Bert Stern's $115,000 documentary of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, was Louis Armstrong's lofty $25,000 fee. Stern rationalized thus expending 20% of his budget because Louis was (a) the biggest star on hand and (b) the most important artist in jazz history. It's hard to quarrel with Stern's rationale. But as with Ken Burns's epic documentary Jazz (2001), devoting so much of one's resources to an overarching colossus necessarily meant skimping in other areas. (There is another, equally telling parallel between Bert Stern and Ken Burns. Each was a non-jazz fan who relied on musical advice from a single source—for Stern, it was Columbia Records executive George Avakian, and for Burns, Wynton Marsalis. At the mercy of one sage apiece, the filmmakers virtually guaranteed errors of omission.)

Still, it would take a heart of granite to deny the timeless and universal appeal of "Rockin' Chair" as rocked and chaired (no doubt for the umpteenth time) by Louis Armstrong and Jack Teagarden. At $25,000, this was a bargain.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Mahalia Jackson: The Lord's Prayer

Track

The Lord's Prayer

Artist

Mahalia Jackson (vocals)

CD

Jazz On A Summer's Day (original soundtrack) (Snapper/Charly 191)

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Musicians:

Mahalia Jackson (vocals),

Mildred Falls (piano, organ)

.

Composed by Albert Hay Malotte

.

Recorded: live at Newport Jazz Festival, RI, July 6, 1958

Albumcovervariousartists-jazzonasummersday-originalsoundtrack

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

According to British scholar Martin Halliwell's American Culture in the 1950s, most reports identified gospel singer Mahalia Jackson as the star of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. In particular, Professor Halliwell cites "The Lord's Prayer," with which she closes Jazz on a Summer's Day (1960), Bert Stern's documentary of the '58 NJF. "Jackson's contralto voice and religious devotion," Halliwell contends, "is a powerful spiritual counterpoint to the secular coolness of the Festival's jazz rhythms."

Miss Jackson, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame the same year as The Jackson Five (perhaps voters thought she was related?), seems to have been all things to all people. It's a stretch, however, to contrast her indisputably powerful spiritual force with "the secular coolness" of Newport '58. The NJF's marquee that year boasted such certifiably hot performers as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Big Joe Turner, Sonny Rollins, Sonny Stitt, Horace Silver, Max Roach, Dinah Washington, Ray Charles, and Maynard Ferguson (whom few would mistake for Chet Baker). Even such cool pioneers as George Shearing and Gerry Mulligan appear in the film serving hot fare—Shearing's Latin-jazz "George in Brazil" and Mulligan's frenetic "As Catch Can." Another '50s cool figure, drummer Chico Hamilton, is represented by "Blue Sands," an exotic drum feature more ethereal than secular. Among the dozen headliners in Jazz on a Summer's Day, only the Jimmy Giuffre 3 can legitimately be characterized as embodying "secular coolness."

In any case, Mahalia Jackson didn't so much contrast with preceding acts in Jazz on a Summer's Day as culminate a head-spinning hodgepodge running the gamut from Louis Armstrong's "When the Saints Go Marching In" and collegiate Dixieland from Eli's Chosen Six (which included future avant-gardist Roswell Rudd playing tailgate trombone) to Chuck Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen" and Thelonious Monk's "Blue Monk." On the heels of this incoherent mishmash, a soothing gospel song was as welcome as the calm after a storm.

Yet without impugning Miss Jackson's devoutness, there remains a tinge of Show Business in all this, as if Jazz on a Summer's Day had been stage-managed by CBS-TV's reigning ringmaster of masscult entertainment, Ed Sullivan. Ending a jazz film with The Gospel According to Mahalia was equivalent to following an Alaskan dancing bear, a Catskills comic and a troupe of Chinese acrobats with an aria from some hefty coloratura soprano on loan from the Metropolitan Opera. This, we suspect, was NJF impresario George Wein's calculated showman's piety capping the secular crassness of a Really Big Shew.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


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