I put on the 1960 documentary Jazz on a Summer's Day on a recent half day afternoon while Jim was still at work hoping for some pleasant background entertainment as I took care of stuff around the house, but I quickly found myself far more enthralled than I expected – and I even went so far as to pour a smallish glass of wine as this soothing and stunning film washed over me.
Centered at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival and interspersed with the WASPy beauty of a yacht race, the movie is almost without dialogue, except for the the occasional introductions from a radio program and the banter of performers – and what performers they are! From a cooler than cool Thelonious Monk, to a cheery, feather-capped Anita O'Day, from an energetic Chuck Berry to the solemn and powerful Mahalia Jackson, the music will be instantly diggable to any fan of the genre, and possibly even create a few new ones.
Beyond the performances, the style of the film and the subjects are highly inspiring. The director seems to almost know the exact images that would excite the current nostalgic movement: a man gathering old timey bottles, a ragtime band playing on the back of a pickup through the coastal Rhode Island landscape, a woman's perfectly red lips and pony tail – these are the images that can make men who name their babies Miles and open up speakeasy barbershops weep.
It plays like a living, breathing mid-century Sartorialist, and it's little wonder that the pure visual aesthetics (and fashions in particular) are given so much weight once you learn that noted fashion photographer Bert Stern (famous for his intimate shots of Marilyn) is behind the lens. He's just as amazed by Dinah Washington's white silk banded gown as her vocals. Stern's amazing eye, combined with what has to be one of the most impressive lineups in jazz festival history, make this seemingly simple film into an extraordinary experience.
I hope this collection of stills will further inspire you to watch.