Jazz on a Summer’s Day (1959): Chronicle of Newport Jazz Fest (Louis Armstrong, Mahalia Jackson)

Juneteenth Celebration:

World premiering at the 1959 Venice Film Fest, the concert film Jazz on a Summer’s Day is set at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island.

Jazz on a Summer’s Day
Jazz on a Summer's Day.jpg

Film poster

It was co-directed by commercial and fashion photographer Bert Stern and Aram Avakian, who also edited the film.

Columbia Records jazz producer George Avakian was the movie’s musical director.

The film interweaves images of Newport, the performers, and the live audience at the festival.

It also features scenes of the 1958 America’s Cup yacht races.

Except for minimal narration by emcee Willis Conover, the film is largely without dialogue (truly unnecessary).

The film features performances by Jimmy Giuffre; Thelonious Monk; Sonny Stitt; Anita O’Day; Dinah Washington; Gerry Mulligan; Chuck Berry; Chico Hamilton, with Eric Dolphy; Louis Armstrong, and Jack Teagarden.

Also appearing are Buck Clayton, Jo Jones, Armando Peraza, and Eli’s Chosen Six, the Yale College student ensemble that included trombonist Roswell Rudd, shown driving around Newport in a convertible jalopy, playing Dixieland.

The last performer on Saturday night was Mahalia Jackson, who sang a one-hour program at midnight, concluding the movie with her rendition of “The Lord’s Prayer.”

Critical Status:

In 1999, the film was selected for preservation in the US National Film Registry by Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”


Directed by Bert Stern, Aram Avakian
Written by Albert D’Annibale, Arnold Perl
Cinematography: Bert Stern
Edited by Aram Avakian
Distributed by Galaxy Attractions
Release date August 1959 (Venice Film Fest)
Running time: 85 minutes


TCM showed this movie on June 22, 2020, as part of its series, “Jazz in Film,” and again on June 19, 2021 for “Juneteenth,” the new Federal holiday.