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Bert Stern, our great friend for so many years, passed away yesterday. Forever part of the New Yorker family, he will be missed...Stern only made one film during his career, but it was a doozy.Jazz on a Summer's Day lives on today as one of the greatest documentaries ever produced.
With his imaginative ads for Smirnoff Vodka, De Beers Diamonds, I.
Miller Shoes and other blue chip accounts, Stern was on his way to becoming one of the greatest photographers of the second half of the 20th century.
Although he had ambitions to turn his talent to motion pictures, the opportunity did not present itself until Elaine Lorillard, the founder of the Newport Jazz Festival, invited him to take some pictures of the summer musical event during the weekend of July 4, 1958.
Lorillard’s request that Stern “take some pictures” of the festival would evolve into a full-fledged motion picture production presenting some of the most remarkable scenes of live jazz ever brought to the screen.
At such events in the past each artist was recorded by his or her respective record label; however, Stern preferred the idea of a compilation soundtrack for his film.
George Avakian, the then head of Columbia records, helped Stern produce a soundtrack carrying nearly fifty of the best instrumentalists and vocalists in Jazz History.
During the four day shoot, Stern broke many movie camera taboos including shooting directly into lights, holding for close-ups lasting three or four minutes, and shooting and recording all of the music sessions live to achieve a sense of immediacy and informality (magnetic sound recording was used).
With principle emphasis on the performances of such legendary artists such as Louis Armstrong, Gerry Mulligan, Mahalia Jackson and Thelonious Monk, the film also offers unusual shots of audience reactions by individuals whose social, economic and age differences cover the entire scale from Brooklyn teen-ager to Newport dowager.
While Stern’s camera fills the screen with a birds eye view of the America’s Cup races or with a tour of Newport’s picturesque streets and beaches, it also focuses on wasted teen-agers, pipe-sucking critics and the socialites whose ancestors built Newport’s famed mansions.