05 July 2008

1958 Newport Jazz Festival

The Italian One Sheet above seems to sum up the film in a way only the Italians could do.
On the left, George Wein, founder of the Newport Festival, Bert Stern in the middle, and a Lincoln Center curator on the right.
Above, my coward's shot across the room of Mr Stern and below, the beautiful Anita O'Day. Her performance and style erases any thought of a 14 year heroin addiction.

To celebrate the 50th Anniversary of "Jazz on a Summer's Day, the Lincoln Center showed a beautiful print last night at 4PM, 6PM and 8PM. I caught the 6PM because my hero was gonna discuss his film of the '58 Newport Jazz Festival and answer questions afterwards.

Bert Stern has been a hero of mine since I was 15. His still images for ad campaigns in the 50s and 60s are the stuff of legend. Allow me to apologise for the crappy and gutless photographs of Mr Stern. I have never felt comfortable about approaching celebrities or artists or politicians...this results in a lousy picture but avoids intrusion and embarrassing gushing on my part.

With the rage of the TV series, "Mad Men" it's something else to watch this documentary of Newport shot by Stern in 1958. The photography of the musicians was so ahead of its time and still is. But what I really love are the audience shots. Unique shots of beautiful women, dapper men, Dixie paper cups full of beer and cigarettes that fill your eyes while the music fills your ears. All with a sophistication that is long gone.

Louis Armstrong and his band kitted out in matching blazers with Mother of Pearl buttons. Anita O'Day in her marvelous hat and white gloves. Thelonious Monk and his bamboo sunglasses. In the audience there's the beautiful girl in the red sweater chewing gum. Ascots. Bermuda shorts. Straw hats. Capri pants. And young couples having some real fun. I felt like crying.

I was so taken with how 1958 was captured that I Netflixed two films from the era. "The Best of Everything" and "The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit." For those fans of "Mad Men" who are waiting for the new season...rent these films if you haven't already. For fans of Mr Stern...you must buy the DVD of "Jazz on a Summer's Day" and watch it over and over again for this is a Trad home run.


3button Max said...

I have seen portions of this film -used in other documentaries, u tube etc. How cool to see a clean print - the film in original context.in 1958-the performers-if not all household names werent museum pieces like today-actually most were fairly accesible. Anita singing Tea for two is worth the price...blows the mind- the shots of the audience are great-this marvelous well heeled crowd of trads listening to acoustic jazz. A miracle that is was preserved...

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you had a good time.

Anonymous said...

After seeing your post of "A Trad Music Video", I subsequently rented and then actually purchased the DVD. Thanks for the wonderful tip.

Nick Rossi said...

Seeing this movie, just under 20 years ago was a MAJOR reason I fell in love with jazz music. I must say it is a film that gets better and better with every viewing. The Chico Hamilton (with Eric Dolphy & John Pisano) and Gerry Mulligan (with Art Farmer) segments are current big favorites. And everyone is dressed SO well.

tintin said...

3BMax-The YouTube vids don't come close to the impact of the full film. At only 88 mins or so, it really tells a story and repeated viewing allows the sighting of great style by the performers and audience. There's a lot going here.

Bunny- Good to see you and yes, it was a great time. Better than the fire works.

Anon- I'm glad I could assist. Stern mentioned in the Q&A that 5,000 feet of film and performances were lost due to a lens being installed wrong. Breaks the heart.

Nick- I grew up listening to my father's favorites: Ahmad Jamal, Brubeck, Getz, Gilberto (J and Astrud), Errol Garner, Oscar Peterson...hated it as a kid. Liked the Monkees. But in my early 20s something clicked in my brain with this music and I fell in love with it. Perhaps it was my newly aquired love of Beefeater Martinis, up with olives, that pushed onto Jazz. It's a delightful pairing and very relaxing.

Steve said...


I caught this film about 10 years ago while idly flipping around the cable minefield. It had already started as I began to watch, so I didn't know anything about it till it was over. Like you, I was mesmerized. And suddenly clued in to the magic of my parents' heyday. This was their milieu - jazz, cocktails, effortless style, genuine optimism. All the moments you site in the film are priceless. The juxtaposition of the America's Cup trials, crowd shots and epic performances is very unique and more than holds up today. It was very near the end of an era. The end of jazz as more or less mainstream entertainment. The end of an era of populist panache. The end of optimism. This film filled in a lot of gaps for me. It gave me a window into the world of my parents, at a time when they were just becoming my parents. I've been urging people to see it ever since - and everyone who does see seems sincerely grateful. I wish I'd been able to see the restored print at Lincoln Center. That must have been a treat.

tintin said...

Steve- Thank you for wonderful comments. You really nailed the feelings I had when I watched this. You see these people (the audience) having such a great time: innocent, guiltless, free. The late 50s were not known for that but the music gave it to them.

I remember thinking how wonderful it all was and how sad that it's gone. And these young couples are in their 70s now. And if they didn't quit smoking...you know? And suddenly my eyes welled up. As if I was watching home movies of my own family. Stern did that. I'm convinced.

3button Max said...

great comments-i have also seen /and probably had but alas loaned/ Great Day in Harlem with several of the same performers. The "old" guard from the early years of jazz were generally just over 50 years old. this also captures time and place. I hope it is still available.


tintin said...

Max- sorry for the delay but it is available on Amazon as well as Netflix.