by Dick Fregulia
I’m feeling like there’s not much to look forward to these days, so I am enjoying rediscovering the past much more. One of the better experiences I’ve had with that lately is viewing the sparkling new 4K restoration by IndieCollect of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival documentary, Jazz on a Summer’s Day.
The Newport Jazz Festival was in its fourth year and had established itself as a true ambassador for the jazz world. Each year it was recorded by Voice of America radio and released in several best-selling jazz record albums, which only spread the relevance of jazz in the late 1950s even further. Although the festival itself had a rocky history through the 1960s, moving to a variety of venues and even out of town in the 1970s, it did create the template for the founding in 1958 of the Monterey Jazz Festival, which flourished for years and is still going strong. It was also the forgotten prototype for the emergence of outdoor rock concerts that started in the mid-1960s.
Produced and directed by Bert Stern, this award-winning documentary captures an inspiring array of images of musicians inventing and inter-acting, audience flowing with the vibes, and sailboats dancing the waves of Newport Bay. The digitalized restoration brings to it an impressive new life of color images and complex sounds.
The film begins with seductive abstracts of flowing water in the bay, several references to the sailboats gathered for the America’s Cup Race in the same area, and then cuts to close-up facial expressions of Jimmy Giuffre on saxophone and Bobby Brookmeyer on valve trombone playing a set on stage. The audience is entranced, responding in a variety of ways with body, mind, and soul.
The cameras wander through space and time, giving glimpses of sound checks, wandering dogs, dancers, candid moments, parties, lovers young and old. But it is always the music that holds us to the photographic details of the scene.
Classic performances abound. The most remembered performance for me (lasting 60 years and still going) is Anita O’Day brilliantly reworking Sweet Georgia Brown and Tea for Two. The segment, lasting about 10 minutes, truly captures an inspired jazz vocal improvisation and the personal, uninhibited audience response.
Preceding that is the trio performance by Thelonious Monk, introduced by Voice of America jazz broadcaster Willis Connover. “Next is a man who is a complete original – who lives in music, thinks in music, and lives and thinks of little else.” The cameras focus on the opening tune of Blue Monk, move to a fascinating variety of audience close-ups, then scan out of the arena to a long montage of sailboats in the rolling waves.
A few sets later we get Louis Armstrong, looking young and energetic in spite of the lyrics of Ol’ Rockin’ Chair’s Got Me, which he sings with Jack Teagarden. The dynamics of the two singing together brought variation to the instrumental interaction of Giuffre and Brookmeyer in the opening set.
Among my many other lasting memories are Dinah Washington singing All of Me, then jamming on vibes with Terry Gibbs, George Shearing rocking with his Latin rhythm section, Chico Hamilton rehearsing his group in a studio, then performing on stage.
The film also covers sets by Henry Grimes, Sonny Stitt, Sal Salvadore, Gerry Mulligan, Big Maybelle, Chuck Berry, and shots of street Dixieland musicians at various locations around town. The concluding set, starting at midnight, features gospel singer Mahalia Jackson . She begins her set with a mid-tempo, grooving blues, then concludes an hour later with a musical treatment of the Lord’s Prayer, which brings the crowd to a dramatic and respectful silence through the entire song. Amen.
Although the water images nicely frame the fluid sounds of the jazz, they also provide a constant reminder of the privileged white culture that surrounds the festival. Historical perspective doesn’t allow the viewer to overlook that, and some will dismiss the film for that. This was, however, a period of important transition in changing racial attitudes, and it was the jazz world that was leading the way to the dramatic changes of the 1960’s. The concept of “black lives matter” is clearly at the heart of the music, the musicians, and the audience, although perhaps not yet reaching the sailboats.
The film is not highly structured, but actually going to a festival like this is only a loosely structured experience anyway. The charm of this film is in the many bits and pieces, like the row of girls in the audience snapping their fingers on the off-beat. Nobody does that anymore, and nobody feels syncopation, but nothing apparently swung like the Newport jazz festival on that summer day.
Jazz on a Summer’s Day is playing in Virtual Cinemas everywhere. Go here to see a complete list of your favorite independent movie theaters presenting this restoration. “Ticket” sales benefit the theaters.
Watch the restored Chuck Berry clip.
Watch director Bert Stern on the making of Jazz on a Summer’s Day.
Jazz was beautifully and extensively restored film in 4K from the best surviving vault elements by IndieCollect. Find out more and how you can help save great independent movies.
For samples of the restoration go to the end of this article.
Explore the film’s press kit and original Campaign Manual
Director Bert Stern had a controversial career as depicted in this equally controversial documentary, Bert Stern: Original Mad Man.
Time Magazine’s Obituary for Stern.
Want to know who played what music? Check here for setlists.
NPR presents photos and music from recent Festivals.
Video highlights from recent and past festivals.
Dick Fregulia has been playing jazz piano gigs in the San Francisco area for half a century, as a soloist, sideman, accompanist to jazz vocalists, and leader of his own jazz combos. For 35 years he was featured Thursday nights at Washington Square Bar and Grill in San Francisco’s North Beach. His early influences were Ahmad Jamal, George Shearing, and Oscar Peterson, leading to a lifelong admiration for Bill Evans as a trio pianist and Art Tatum as a solo pianist. In recent years he has focused on expanding opportunities to perform with his piano trio and his Good Vibes Quintet/Quartet/Trio.
He previously reviewed Bill Evans Time Remembered for EatDrinkFilms.
As a “jazz recording artist” Dick created Blue Koala Records in 1978 with the highly acclaimed solo piano LP, Sunday Morning at Washington Square. He has since produced more than 20 recording projects, both as a soloist and in various combinations with vocalists and different groups of musicians. His newest two trio releases feature Bill Moody on drums and Steve Webber on bass. Sail Away presents the music of Tom Harrell played by the Fregulia Trio, while jazzitalia, features compositions by Italian jazz artists. Previous CDs include Re: Person I Knew (trio tribute to Bill Evans), Art For Sale (the Dick Fregulia Trio), I’ll String Along With You (the Dick Fregulia Stringalong Trio with Brandon Robinson on guitar), “Live at Kuumbwa” (the Good Vibes Quintet), and “That’s Amore” (trio arrangements of 13 songs by Harry Warren).
The Dick Fregulia Trio and his Good Vibes Trio/Quartet/Quintet appear in San Francisco at Pier 23, Cafe Claude, and the Cliff House, while Dick performs as a soloist at Marin Joe’s in Corte Madera and with bassist Steve Webber at the Sand Dollar in Stinson Beach—when places are open again.
He performs virtually every Wednesday 5-6 pm as “Dick Fregulia’s Jazz Piano Bar” on Facebook. Past sessions are there too.
Here are a few excerpts from these sessions.
And older concerts are here.
Listen to an excerpt from his Bill Evans Tribute LP, Re: Person I Know.
“San Francisco’s Greatest Jazz Piano Player” (overheard as said by San Francisco restaurateur Sam DuVall in a parador restaurant in Santianna del Mar, Spain from an adjacent table, circa 1991).
Newport 1958 – Jimmy Giuffrè plays “The train and the river” – Bob Brookmeyer (valve trombone) – Jimm Hall (guitar)