Documentary ‘Jazz on a Summer’s Day’ playing Aspen Art Museum rooftop
IF YOU GO …
What: ‘Jazz on a Summer’s Day’
Where: Aspen Art Museum rooftop
When: Friday, Sept. 11 & Saturday, Sept. 12, 8 p.m.
Tickets: Sold out
More info: aspenfilm.org
Despite its stature as one of the best concert documentaries and maybe the first, “Jazz on a Summer’s Day” was going to be lost to history.
The 1959 film, directed by famed photographer Bert Stern and Aram Acakian, is a visual feast of scenes and performances from the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. Filmed in lush color, it includes close-up views of performances by Thelonious Monk, Louis Armstrong, Mahalia Jackson and Anita O’Day among others, interspersed with atmospheric shots of the crowd, of Newport parties and the America’s Cup yacht race launching.
The film preservation organization IndieCollect has made a new 4K restoration of the movie, which had been degrading in its original film reels. It premiered at the 2019 New York Film Festival and comes to Aspen this weekend for a special presentation on the rooftop of the Aspen Art Museum.
The restoration project was funded by the National Film Preservation Board of the Library of Congress, which named it to the National Film Registry in 1999.
“It is really a work of passion and dedication,” IndieCollect colorist Oskar Miarka said in a phone interview this week. “We are saving these films as they disintegrate into oblivion.”
The meticulous and time-intensive restoration of “Jazz on a Summer’s Day” was overseen by IndieCollect founder Sandra Schulberg. IndieCollect’s archival scanner was able to capture high-resolution digital images of each frame of the celluloid. Degradation of the celluloid had resulted in some shots that were too red or too green. But with their restoration software, Miarka and the IndieCollect team were able to resurrect the color as the filmmaker originally intended.
“It was such a pleasue and honor to work on this film and I was just hoping to do it justice,” Miarka said.
An impressionistic portrait of the music festival, the film does not have a narrator or titles, but it captures attention with artful visuals that accompany timeless performances by music legends like Louis Armstrong duetting with trombonist Jack Teagarden and capping his set with “When the Saints Go Marching In” and Mahalia Jackson offering a heartrending vocal performance of “The Lord’s Prayer.” There’s also Dinah Washington and Anita O’Day and Chuck Berry crashing the party on his Gibson electric guitar.
The 1960 New York Times review howled “as generous a dish of top jazz music as any cat could take in one gulp is beautifully ladled off the soundtrack.” In style and rhythm, it paved the way for “Woodstock” and “Monterey Pop,” which came in the decade that followed its release.
The Aspen screening results from a collaboration between three arts nonprofits: the Aspen Art Museum, Aspen Film and Jazz Aspen Snowmass.
A sold-out, two-night event with an audience capped at 48 per night, it is a clear result of collaboration among local arts entities — who have been held regular virtual meetings since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March — and marks the return of film screenings to the rooftop at the museum, where they’ve been hosted regularly since 2014 but not since the pandemic shut the museum doors in March.
“The fact that it has been restored and infused with gorgeous, updated color gave us good reason to bring this back to the big screen,” said Aspen Film executive and artistic director Susan Wrubel. “We had been looking to do a live screening outdoors with both the Aspen Art Museum and Jazz Aspen Snowmass and offering this masterpiece against the backdrop of Aspen Mountain feels like the perfect way to wrap up the summer.”
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After a six-month hiatus, Basalt Regional Library will reopen its doors on Monday.