Feb 11, 1960: World Premiere! Jazz on a Summer’s Day
Aram Avakian and Bert Stern’s Newport Jazz Fest film, Jazz on a Summer’s Day, had its world premiere at the Beacon Hill Theater on Feb 11, 1960. Boston has had its share of debut performances on the stage, especially back when the Hub was an important Broadway tryout town, but a film premiere was a rare thing. Stern’s camera was everywhere: on the stage, behind the scenes, in the crowd. So this documentary, all shot on the Saturday of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, received much scrutiny in the local press.
All the Boston papers covered the opening in their February 12 editions, and most of the reporters liked it, even if they weren’t quite sure what they were seeing. Said the Traveler’s Alta Maloney: “This is a most unusual film, a treat for the eyes and ears.” The Globe’s Marjory Adams called it a “sure-fire pleasure,” with musical numbers that “offer emotional thrill and beauty to even a jazz ignoramous like myself.” The Record’s Elliot Norton didn’t like it, equating the fervent fan or player to an unrestrained barbarian, attempting “to blow or shake or shout his way back to a Neanderthal freedom, on a level close to that of the animals.” Finally on the 16th John McLellan, one of the emcees that day at Newport, wrote in his “Jazz Scene” column in the Traveler that “Jazz on a Summer’s Day, a film currently at the Beacon Hill, is a remarkably accurate picture of the Newport Jazz Festival.” Good enough for me, and besides the film has Louis and Mulligan and Monk and Mahalia Jackson and many more doing what they did best.
The film’s been lovingly restored, and I recommend it highly. And come on, weren’t you just gassed by Anita O’Day when you first saw this film?