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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, James Poore, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf

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1. The Train and the River – Jimmy Giuffre Trio

2. Blue Monk – Thelonious Monk Trio

3. Loose Walk – Sonny Stittt & Sal Salvador

4. Sweet Georgia Brown – Anita O’Day

5. Tea for Two – Anita O’Day

6. All of Me – Dinah Washington

7. As Catch Can – Gerry Mulligan Quartet

8. I Ain’t Mad at You – Big Maybelle

9. Sweet Little Sixteen – Chuck Berry

10. Blue Sands – Chico Hamilton Quintet

11. Up a Lazy River – Louis Armstrong

12. Tiger Rag – Louis Armstrong

13. Rockin’ Chair – Louis Armstrong & Jack Teagarden

14. When the Saints Go Marching In – Louis Armstrong

15. Walk all Over God’s Heaven – Mahalia Jackson

16. Didn’t It Rain? – Mahalia Jackson

17. The Lord’s Prayer –Mahalia Jackson

I first saw this film with my father at a small London cinema, soon after the movie was released in 1958. We were glad to see film of some jazz idols performing - at a time when appearances by American jazzers in Britain were very sparse. We were also impressed by the film’s rich colour and its clever intertwining of the jazz with sunny scenes of sailing, as the America’s Cup trials were taking place at the same time as the Newport Jazz Festival in Newport, Rhode Island. Previously our main chance of seeing jazz musicians playing was when they mimed to performances in Hollywood films. Only rarely had we seen our jazz idols actually performing their music live.

This pack contains a CD as well as a DVD of the film. I shall review the DVD but with special reference to the music, so as to cover both the discs. The film was the first and only one ever directed by Bert Stern, a professional photographer who confessed that he wanted to make a film before he was 30. This confession appears in a long, interesting documentary about Bert and the making of the film, which is included on the DVD.

The film’s opening is brilliant. A scene of a quayside pans down to observe the patterns in the swirling water, which seem to reflect the stirrings and counterpoint of the Jimmy Giuffre Trio as they play their classic The Train and the River. Thelonious Monk plays a rather mournful Blue Monk (with somewhat over-enthusiastic drumming by Roy Haynes) before things liven up for some straightforward swinging by Sonny Stitt and Sal Salvador.

Then came the film’s greatest highlight. Anita O’Day slowly climbed the stairs to the stage. She was wearing a gorgeous black dress and a large feathered hat. With just drum accompaniment, she tiptoed into Sweet Georgia Brown which she subjected to a whole range of ever-increasing improvisations. Her singing and scatting Tea for Two was even more startling: performed at top speed with a remarkable range of vocal effects – and all the time swinging like crazy. Wonderful!

The uncredited George Shearing Quintet animates the crowd with Armando Peraza’s conga drumming. Dinah Washington sings a bluesy All of Me, dressed in what looks like a pink and white sheet. The Gerry Mulligan Quartet plays with commendable precision (they are listed on the sleeve as “Gerry Mulligan and the Concert Band”!). Then two acts arrive which, to me, appear low down on the list of attractions. Big Maybelle is a throaty blues singer I had never heard of before. Chuck Berry is deservedly well-known, and I like him, but one might question his appearance at a jazz festival.

The more cerebral Chico Hamilton Quintet performs with flute and cello, preceding the more earthy but marvellous Louis Armstrong, who throws himself into every song, both with vocals and with his soaring trumpet. The evening ends with a rousing Mahalaia Jackson performing two spirituals enthusiastically and The Lord’s Prayer more sedately.

Because of Bert Stern’s background in photography, the images are delightful and characterful, although we see more of the audience than we do of the musicians. There are plenty of beautiful close-ups. With Anita O’Day, Stern’s camera is clearly in love with her image, and she might be a fashion model. Yet the film conveys the enjoyment of the occasion and the musicians’ pleasure in playing together.

The two discs are packaged in a sturdy cardboard case which includes a generous booklet, with comments on each track and a plethora of sophisticated photos which comprise a fascinating picture gallery. The full personnels are not supplied, although some details are scattered among the liberal sleeve-notes. But these are discs worth saving, encapsulating the best jazz film ever made.

Tony Augarde

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