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.