From the July 1, 2005 Chicago Reader.To celebrate a lovely new restoration coming out. — J.R.
Bert Stern’s film of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival (1960; his only film) features Thelonious Monk, Louis Armstrong, Eric Dolphy, Chuck Berry, Dinah Washington, Mahalia Jackson, Anita O’Day, Gerry Mulligan, Chico Hamilton, and many others. Shot in gorgeous color, it’s probably the best feature-length jazz concert movie ever made. Despite some distracting cutaways to boats in the opening sections, it eventually buckles down to an intense concentration on the music and the audience’s rapport with it as afternoon turns into evening. Jackson’s rendition of “The Lord’s Prayer” is a particularly luminous highlight. Stern doesn’t seem to know what distinguishes mediocre from good or great jazz — he didn’t even bother to film Miles Davis at the same festival, and he allows a stupid announcement about boats to cover up part of a Monk solo — so all three get equal amounts of his attention. But he’s very good at showing people listening. 85 min. Gene Siskel Film Center.