Glasgow Film Festival 2020 – Jazz on a Summer’s Day review by Pat Byrne
On a dreich Glasgow day a perfect movie choice was Jazz On A Summer’s Day, showing at Glasgow Film Festival 2020.
Fashion photographer Bert Stern’s film of the Newport Jazz Festival 1958 not only offered an amazing line up of some of the world’s most wonderful jazz musicians but also caught the fashion, atmosphere and culture of the time.
Allan Hunter, Co-Director of Glasgow Film Festival, introduced the event and his praise for the film restoration was very much deserved. It looked fabulous and the quality of the sound was superb.
There was an expectation that the music would be brilliant with performances by jazz greats including Louis Armstrong, Dinah Washington, Mahalia Jackson, Thelonius Monk, Anita O’Day, Big Maybelle and Chuck Berry but the film was much more than a music documentary.
I loved Stern’s approach, including the very sparse dialogue and absence of heavy narration – the film speaks for itself. The photographer/filmmaker captured the fashion of the day with young women in their summer frocks, short waved hair, slacks and blue eye shadow; catching the era before teenagers arrived, when mums and daughters shopped in the same stores. A flavour of 50s high fashion was provided by Anita O’Day, when she stepped onto the stage – glamorous from head to toe – in her high heels, black and white fishtail dress, white gloves and amazing feathered hat.
I’m not at all familiar with the jazz singer but a DVD ‘Anita Day Life of A Jazz Singer’ looks like a collector’s item. I could definitely watch that – her rendition of ‘Sweet Georgia Brown” in Jazz on a Summer’s Day was glorious and contrast was provided with a playful ‘Tea for Two’.
Other performances that I loved included Dinah Washington singing ‘All of You’, wonderful voice and she seemed to be having such a great time. Louis Armstrong was also in top form with ‘Up A Lazy River’, his voice so recognisable. A real crowd pleaser was his duet ‘Rockin’ Chair’ with Danny Barcelona. Chuck Berry rocked it up a bit with ‘Sweet Little Sixteen. (I recognised his moves from when I saw him perform in the Odeon, Glasgow in 1964.)
The magnificent Mahalia Jackson brought the concert to a close with an astounding version of ‘The Lord’s Prayer’. It certainly was an unforgettable day.
Stern did a wonderful job with this film and had a few lucky breaks that he took full advantage of. The scenes of the yachts at Newport taking part in the America Cup Trials on the day of the concert were really beautiful and spoke perfectly of summer, as did the couple dancing with abandon on a roof top and another pair sitting smoking and drinking high up on a window ledge. A very effective scene was a bare chested Fred Katz of the Chico Hamilton Quintet practising Bach on his cello followed by wee kids playing in the sunshine with their tops off. I loved the wee girl with her mum’s high heels on wheeling her doll’s pram.
I thought it was noteworthy that the film was shot during the Civil Rights Movement in America, many of the famous performers were African American but the audience was largely white and no noticeable sign of mingling. The music from the day will be covered at many jazz festivals today but the attire and mix of the festival goers will be very, very different.
It was the first and only film Stern ever directed. It premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 1959. In 1999 it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
Brilliant film, amazing artists and fantastic social commentary.
Pat Byrne, February, 2020.
Excepts From Jazz on a Summer’s Day YouTube
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