Jazz on a Summer’s Day (1959)

Jazz on a Summer’s Day (1959)

“I just came here for the fun of it.”

Various jazz musicians perform at the fourth annual Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island while the America’s Cup races occur nearby and spectators enjoy beautiful summer weather.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Concert Films

This groundbreaking concert documentary — notable for setting the tone for future entries in this sub-genre — was the result of jazz photographer Aram Avakian and fashion photographer Bert Stern teaming with jazz producer George Avakian (Aram’s brother) to capture musical performances from the annual Newport Jazz Festival, along with plenty of footage of attendees — young and old, Black and white, Beatnik and refined — relaxing and enjoying their time together. Indeed, the pleasures of this film come not just from the music, but from the improvisational way in which the festival is presented, capturing the spirit of this particular place in time. Personal favorite musical highlights include Thelonious Monk performing “Blue Monk”:

… Anita O’Day (high on heroin at the time, as she later admitted) scatting away skillfully:

… the cellist from the Chico Hamilton Quintet (Nate Gersham) privately playing the Prelude to Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1:

… and (of course) Louis Armstrong and his All-Stars performing with characteristic verve and joy:

But the carefully edited interstitial footage is often just as illuminating, beautiful, or (unintentionally) amusing:

This musical treat will likely be a repeat favorite for jazz-loving film fanatics, and should be viewed once by all simply for its historical relevance.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Many enjoyable musical performances

  • An eclectic look at audience members enjoying the festival

Must See?
Yes, as an invaluable historical artifact and archive. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.


  • Historically Relevant


One thought on “Jazz on a Summer’s Day (1959)

  1. Not must-see; only for enthusiasts of traditional jazz.

    As a document, it often has the feel of a home movie; one that seems more interested in capturing the environment than the main attraction: the Newport Jazz Festival. Jazz lovers may still appreciate some of the standards performed but overall (for some reason) the effect is a bit lackluster – so the film feels overrated.

    It does save the best for last: Mahalia Jackson. Jackson, in fact, performed for an hour but her set is cut to about 10 minutes. Still, she’s very cute when she says to the audience, “You make me feel like I’m a star.” And her rendition of ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ (which concludes the film) is very moving.

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