Jazz on a Summer’s Day. 1959. USA. Directed by Bert Stern. 85 min.
Bert Stern’s impeccably filmed documentary, the first of its kind, captures the 1958 Newport jazz festival, with performances by Thelonious Monk, Chuck Berry, Mahalia Jackson, Louis Armstrong, Dinah Washington, and Anita O’Day. Nearly as entertaining as the performances are the closely observed shots of the audience, in turn stoned and giddy, listening in quiet reverence or bored on a sleepy morning, and dancing in their seats. It feels impossibly blissful at times, and portrays a vision of America not often captured in 1958: Black and white music lovers together, in awe of the performers, simply enjoying themselves. Jazz on a Summer’s Day depicts an idyllic, simplistic world we know does not exist, then or now—but it sure looks like it did, if only for one long weekend. Mahalia Jackson singing the Lord’s Prayer at midnight, ushering in a new day, makes anything seem possible. 4K preservation by IndieCollect, Courtesy Kino Lorber