Sunday, August 28, 2011


My friend Ray, otherwise known as "the guy who always finds cool shit on YouTube," is at it again. This time with a clip from Jazz On A Summer Day, a documentary of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. The clip is of Chuck Berry, playing "Sweet Little Sixteen," with a back up band of jazz musicians (among them, Jack Teagarden, Buck Clayton and Jo Jones, if the comments on YouTube are correct). When you consider that rock n' roll had not quite fully reached critical mass, that it was a jazz event, and Chuck Berry's habit of playing with pick-up bands, it's not all that strange, in theory.

While Berry's performance is pretty good (he was. after all, in his prime), the band's performance itself isn't really anything special, in fact it's pretty piss poor. But the dynamic is captivating. Berry, a jazz fan himself, is being backed by musicians who seem almost condescending, particularly Jo Jones, the drummer; as if rock n' roll is beneath them. The trouble is, they couldn't play rock n' roll. Even's Alan Kurtz, whose loyalties one would assume are with jazz musicians, wrote "Onstage, the Rock 'n' Roller was accompanied, more or less, by a pickup group of Swing Era jazzmen who mostly stood around with thumbs up their behinds looking bewildered and patronizing." Ouch! Regardless, Berry soldiers on, even when the clarinetist tries to derail his duck walk. And it's a safe bet that the audience shared the attitude of the jazz musicians. That is, with the exception of the young cooler-than-shit couple dancing (at 2:31 in the clip). (And that woman dancing? Let's just say, move over Sparkle Moore, once that Wayback Machine is up and running, you've got competition.)

Another thing that I like about this clip is the composition of the shots and the overall feel of it. It almost looks fake because it's so high quality given the era. Some of the shots look like Robert Frank photos, which makes sense because the filmmaker was Bert Stern, a photographer, who was hell bent on making a feature film before he turned thirty. The stage lighting, particularly on Berry, adds to the surreal feel. He's lit from below and, with that cage around the microphone, you just know David Lynch stole that for the scene in Blue Velvet when Dean Stockwell lip syncs Roy Orbison's "In Dreams" using a drop light as a microphone.

Now that I've spent about an hour obsessing about a four minute clip, one more thing: check out the write up at about the film. It's really worth a read. And all you mp3 cherry pickers can feed your habit with a few semi-deep Berry cuts below.

Chuck Berry - Downbound Train mp3 at Clumsy and Shy
Chuck Berry - Our Little Rendezvous mp3 at Fuck Yeah Go Team
Chuck Berry - Hey Pedro mp3 at Clumsy and Shy
Chuck Berry - That's My Desire mp3 at Clumsy and Shy
More clips from Jazz On A Summer's Day
Chuck Berry - Official site
Jazz On A Summers Day at Story of the film, track by track rundown of all of the filmed performances, and a list of notable performances that weren't included in the film.
Bert Stern - Official site

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