Jazz on a Summer’s Day

Concerts provide a cathartic communal experience, and though watching one on film will not of course provide anything near the same level of experience as actual attendance, Jazz on a Summer’s Day is about as close as it gets.  The film chronicles the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island and features stunning performances from artists as diverse and talented as Thelonious Monk, Anita O’Day, Dinah Washington, Chuck Berry, Big Maybelle, Louis Armstrong, and Mahalia Jackson.  The cinematography, likewise, is fantastic.  Details, such as that of Anita O’Day somewhat painstakingly navigating the stairs to the stage in a dress that gathers in tightly around her ankles, are exquisitely chosen, and lots of close-ups both of the artists and of individuals in the crowd provide a sense of intimacy.  The camera is equally effective when panned out, capturing in broad strokes what’s going on in the surrounding environment–boating scenes from the 1958 America’s Cup Trials, which were also going on in Newport at the time; hipsters partying it up and letting their hair down; intense musicians gathered in small, smoke-filled rooms for extended improvisations; and even just families simply enjoying a day at the beach.  All combines to produce a highly enjoyable viewing experience composed almost entirely without the intrusion of a narrator in such a way as to deliver an aesthetically heightened sense of what it might have been like to actually be there.  One halfway expects to see Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty drop in at any time, high on jazz and life, beatific.  I love this film.  Highly, highly recommended for music and film aficionados alike, but don’t just take my word for it.  Check out the score on Rotten Tomatoes.  Or, better still, check out the film itself.  It’s available right now on iTunes for a paltry $6.    

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