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

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.

It’s 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 mixes images of the city with the performers and audience at the festival.

It also features scenes of the 1958 America’s Cup yacht races. The film is largely without dialog, except for minimal narration by emcee Willis Conover.

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; and Louis Armstrong, with 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 Saturday night was Mahalia Jackson, who sang a one-hour program at midnight, and she concludes the movie with her rendition of “The Lord’s Prayer.”

Critical Status:

In 1999, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as 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.”