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Bert Stern: an eye on jazz

Six weeks before Marilyn Monroe died in the summer of 1962, Bert Stern spent three days in a Los Angeles hotel room taking the photographs that will forever make it difficult to believe that the actress took her own life. Not surprisingly, it was the story of the Monroe sessions that led the obituaries marking his death last week, at the age of 83, such as this one in the New York Times and this one in the Guardian. And here I am, falling for the same temptation.

Four years earlier, however, Stern, then a top advertising photographer, had earned the permanent gratitude of jazz fans when he travelled to Rhode Island to record the Newport Jazz Festival for a feature film titled Jazz on a Summer’s Day. Thanks to him, and his co-director and editor Aram Avakian, we have a beautifully shot first-hand record of how Louis Armstrong, Chuck Berry, Jimmy Giuffre, Thelonious Monk, Mahalia Jackson and many others looked as well as sounded in performance at that point in their careers.

Most of the famous sequences from the film were shot during the hours of daylight, capturing the garden-party atmosphere of the early Newport festivals. That’s certainly what you get in the clip of Anita O’Day above. Look a bit harder on YouTube, however, and you’ll find a night-time sequence of the magnificent Big Maybelle, dressed as if for her own wedding, singing “I Ain’t Mad at You”, with a band led by Buck Clayton, who takes the trumpet solo. For some technical reason I can’t share it with you here, but a simple search should lead you to it. Better still, buy the whole thing on DVD, and say a little thank-you to the late Mr Stern.

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. RIP indeed – Jazz on a Summer’s Day still stands as one of my main gateways into music. I’d somehow got into traditional jazz at a v ery early age (probably via my late father who was a big Mick Mulligan fan and used to go to Notts to see them – the booze association was no doubt another attraction) – already loved rock and roll but jazz seemed a natural progression. Burying myself in Jelly Roll Morton and early Oliver/Armstrong I started reading about/hearing more modern sounds. Then one day in old Loughborough at the long gone Victory cinema – JOASD. It played second feature to Paris Holiday with Bob Hope and Fernandel – a crap film and thinking back, I wonder at the glorious obsessions of youth, butI sat through several shows that day and night, mesmerized by Thelonious Monk, the image, the sounds. That and Jimmy Giuffre – but Monk was my entry into more complex sound worlds, not just in jazz but beyond. Still ongoing… A gateway indeed…

    July 1, 2013
  2. hamertheframer #

    A beautiful film. This was where I discovered Anita O’Day. Tea For Two can’t be beat!

    July 1, 2013
  3. Mick Steels #

    Strange backing Big Maybelle with a mainstream band, even stranger pairing Chuck Berry with Jo Jones. Very fine visual documentary, but when you check some of the omissions imagine what an even better movie it could have been.

    July 2, 2013
  4. Alan Codd #

    The photography is incredible. Everything musically in it is of top interest. Go to Youtube and check out Gerry Mulligan, Chico Hamilton (Eric Dolphy), Armstrong, Giuffre, Dinah Washington (Terry Gibbs). She takes a vibes solo. All time favourite. Indispensable stuff. Look at the audience shots as Armstrong is playing. You’ll never see anything like this again in your Lifetime. Thelonious Monk.
    “This was where I discovered Anita O’Day.” Unforgettable.
    I have been listening to this music all my life and I hadn’t seen the film until two years ago. Why hadn’t anyone told me it was that good?

    July 2, 2013

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