Blu-ray reissue: Jazz on a Summer’s Day (****)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on July 10, 2021)

Jazz on a Summer’s Day (Kino Classics/Indie Collect)

Bert Stern’s groundbreaking documentary about the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival is not so much a “concert film” as it is a fascinating and colorful time capsule of late 50s American life. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of gorgeously filmed numbers spotlighting the artistry of Thelonius Monk, Anita O’Day, Dinah Washington, Louis Armstrong, at the peak of their powers.

The effect is like “being there” in 1958 Newport on a languid summer’s day. If you’ve ever attended an outdoor music festival, you know half the fun is people-watching, and Stern obliges. Stern breaks with film making conventions of the era; this is the genesis of the cinema verite music documentary, which wouldn’t come to flower until a decade later with films like Don’t Look Back, Monterey Pop, Woodstock and Gimme Shelter.

Indie Collect’s 4 K restoration pops with vivid primary colors. The audio quality is outstanding. Extras include an essay about the making of the film by jazz critic Nate Chinen, an absorbing feature-length 2011 documentary by Shannah Laumeister Stern called Bert Stern: Original Madman (Stern was a fascinating, Zelig-like figure-I had no inkling of his achievements outside of Jazz on a Summer’s Day, which is the only film he ever directed) and a new audio commentary by music journalist Natalie Weiner. A terrific package.

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