The city is a blur with the sweet sounds of Jazz this week as the SF Jazz Festival rages into it’s last day in the Hayes Valley/Van Ness area. Not a film festival but cinematic indeed, this festival features great musical talents that inspire film in many ways.
Take for example, the groundbreaking concert film Jazz on a Summer’s Day (1959)
This amazing documentary film is set at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island. Co-directed by legendary photographer Bert Stern and director Aram Avakian, they manifest the jazz feel not only in the performances but also in the style.
The photography is mesmerizing from the intro credits to what is probably the best filmed cello solo of the century. Stern and his crew assembled an array of color pictures that should make any camera enthusiast drool. They capture the bands on stage and an assortment of candid views that is endless (not to mention the fat guys in Bermuda shorts).
Blazing a trail for the entire concert-film genre, Stern and Avakian created imagery that matched the tone of the event. Vibrant, mysterious, and lush. The way jazz is made to invoke a deep emotional response, so does the camera work of a madman and his crew.
For those who’d like the whole enchilada, the film is available in its entirety thanks to the wonders of Vimeo here at Jazz on a Summer’s Day.
I’m contiunously surprised by the online availability of these titles but it’s a welcome equalizer for those of us who don’t have direct access to the vaults of the George Eastman House archives.
Another site that is creating a space for those of us film history addicts is Fandor, an SF-based company who brings new and niche cinema to the forefront via its online streaming platform.
Take a look at this preview of the jazzy short featuring the soulful sounds of Django Reinhardt jamming in the only way one could in 1939.
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Another vanguard of the music film is the masterpiece, Low Light and Blue Smoke. It really does not get much better than this short film when it comes to the blues on film. Not only are we watching a genius of the medium but the construction sucks you into a story. If you have the chance to see it restored on a different format please do yourself the favor. However, in the interest of seeing it in it’s complete form, I turn you to YouTube.
Maybe it’s better to call this short an “impression”—a compilation of images and atmospheres—arranged to convey a scene of leisure and enjoyment while Big Bill Broonzy tears it up on stage.
The jazz film, and the concert film by extension, has changed over time but the construction of the above show you how the music can and should inform the imagery. It also reminds me of how much I like to hear live music, bringing me full circle to the SF Jazz Festival.
Closing night is tonight and they’re going out with a bang!
Check out the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble below. They’ll be gracing the SF Jazz Center stage tonight along with local band the Bourbon Kings. It should be loud and it will be a blast.