Archive for Jazz on a Summer’s Day

Chuck Berry on a Summer’s Day

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , on October 19, 2016 by telescoper

I was meaning to post this yesterday about Chuck Berry to mark his 90th Birthday. I’m putting it here as a bit of an oddity but I hope you find it interesting.

Chuck Berry appeared in Bert Stern’s classic film Jazz on Summer’s Day which was filmed at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. He performed on that occasion with a pick-up band called the Newport All-Stars, and the number that made it into the film was Sweet Little Sixteen, a tune that he actually wrote. I find two things fascinating about this performance. One is that the “backing band” is a stellar group of Jazz legends: the drummer is the great Jo Jones (who led the lightly swinging rhythm section of the great Count Basie band of the 1930s); the trumpeter is Buck Clayton, another Basie alumnus; and the trombonist is none other than Jack Teagarden. To a Jazz fan like myself, the talents of these musicians are totally wasted: they seem somewhat bemused by Chuck Berry’s gyrations on stage as well as bored by the material. When the time comes for the improvised solos that a jazz audience demands, only the relatively unknown clarinettist Rudy Rutherford – usually a tenor saxophonist who played with a number of bands, including Count Basie’s – was prepared to stand up and be counted, his strange effort is evidently a source of great amusement to the rest of the band, but at least he got into the spirit!

The other fascinating thing is what a historical document this is. During the 1950s Jazz was beginning to lose out to Rock and Roll in the popularity stakes, hence the plan of booking Chuck Berry to boost the audience figures at the Newport Jazz Festival. The tension on stage is almost palpable and even Chuck Berry occasionally looks a bit embarrassed by the whole thing. But it’s also a wonderfully observed portrayal of the styles of the time, especially through the audience shots. I wonder what happened to the cute couple dancing to this performance?

Anyway, belated best wishes on his 90th Birthday, here’s Chuck Berry recorded live 58 years ago at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958, singing and playing Sweet Little Sixteen.

 

P.S. I forgot to mention the superb photography.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jazz on a Summer’s Day 2

Posted in Jazz with tags , on June 26, 2010 by telescoper

It’s a boiling hot day – at least by British standards – so I think it’s time to chill out in the shade of my garden with some drinks. Here’s some appropriately smooth jazz sounds from a classic performance by the wonderful Anita O’Day recorded at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958 and used as part of the film Jazz on  Summer’s Day. There are two numbers here: Sweet Georgia Brown, in three movements of contrasting style, followed by a scintillating up-tempo version of Tea for Two with its wry chase sequence that brought the house down. 

And doesn’t she look fabulous in that hat?

Jazz on a Summer’s Day

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on June 20, 2010 by telescoper

It’s been a lovely sunny weekend and I’m feeling too lazy to blog properly, so I thought I’d resurrect and update an old post. The video clips in that older version were deleted a while ago, but have now been replaced by one long clip which gives me an excuse to replace this post about the wonderful film Jazz on a Summer’s Day. Not that I need an excuse…

At the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, Mahalia Jackson (“The world’s greatest gospel singer”) played a lengthy set on the Sunday evening, and her whole concert was so good it was subsequently made available on CD.  She wasn’t really a jazz singer, but she was born in New Orleans (in 1911) and her style developed in the shadow of both the jazz and blues traditions that had their origins in her home town.

Three tracks from her 1958 concert made it into the film. Two of them are the sort of exuberant up-tempo stompers typical of Southern gospel music; there’s something about that beat that sets your pulse racing and makes it almost impossible to resist clapping your hands on the off-beat. The fine example here are a jaunty finger-clicking Walk all over God’s Heaven and  a highly locomotive rendition of Didn’t it Rain, a tune written by the world’s greatest composer  “Trad”. Both of them have the crowd of jazz fans leaping about in the aisles.

As you can hear, Mahalia Jackson’s voice is simply phenomenal.  She has so much power and emotional expressiveness that she is in a class on her own when it comes to this kind of music. In fact she gave singing lessons to the young Aretha Franklin, the one “soul “singer who came anywhere close to that quality of voice. But if you really want to hear music with from the soul, listen to Mahalia Jackson.

Although she had a number of hit records, Mahalia Jackson refused to sign for any major record label and performed throughout her life almost exclusively on gospel radio stations. I think she could easily have become a pop star if she had wanted to, but she saw her mission in life to communicate her faith to others through music. She also used a great deal of her earnings to help others by founding school bursaries and through other charitable works.

As in this concert, she usually performed with a backing band of piano, bass and organ but despite the lack of a drummer they build up a tremendous forward momentum.

Terrific though the first two tracks undoubtedly are, what comes next and last is truly sublime. The Lord’s Prayer is such a familiar piece of text to anyone brought up in the Christian tradition that it is difficult to imagine in advance of hearing this performance that it could be sung in such a way. The contrast between this and the previous track is immense, which makes it even more effective. This is no rumbustious rabble-rouser, just a simple and pure expression of her own deep religious faith. 

Almost as moving as her singing are the cuts to the audience reaction – the same people who were leaping about a few minutes earlier sit in deep and respectful contemplation. And who wouldn’t.. I’m not a religious man but there is certainly religious music that moves me very deeply, and this is a prime example.