Bert Stern was a still photographer who got the opportunity to take a film crew to the 1959 Newport Jazz festival. With limited time and film, Stern and his crew set out not just to record a musical event, but to record a social experience.
For the most part, he succeeds, although there is more than enough footage of a boat race on Chesapeake bay that day to last me for the rest of my life.
The film cuts from performances to reactions of the crowd, as any concert film would. It's interesting to see the wide difference in clothing styles that appealed to people in 1959. Everything from men in suits to greasers in denim can be seen dancing and grooving along with the music.
People living nearby the festival can be seen partying on their roofs and dancing, booze in hand, to the music. People of every age are shown bopping along with whoever is on stage at the time.
Highlights: Anita O'Day's spot-on performance, in spite of the fact that she's well into her much-ballyhooed drug and booze habit (in a recent radio interview she said she couldn't remember doing this gig after even watching the film); Louis Armstrong, Jerry Mulligan, and the rather out-of-place, clearly there-for-the-kids but dressed to the nines and behaving himself, Chuck Berry. Older jazz guys have no idea what to make of Chuck, and one guy, in an attempt to "jazz up" Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen," starts playing some rather odd clarinet runs. Think "Sweet Little Bar Mitzvah."
There's a nice bunch of extras on here, too, including an interview with Stern that expalins a lot about what was going on.
If you like jazz, or documentaries, or just good music, this is a keeper.