Yes, as Richard Brody and others have pointed out, JAZZ ON A SUMMER’S DAY—photographer Bert Stern’s indelible documentary of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival—could have been a different kind of film. Sonny Rollins, Mary Lou Williams, Duke Ellington, MaxRoach, and Miles Davis—with John Coltrane in his sextet—were also in Newport that year, but their performances didn’t make the final cut.
Yet the film remains one of the greatest jazz documentaries ever made, a picture of the art form at its peak just as rock and roll was about to replace it as the country’s most popular musical genre.
The performances of Dinah Washington and Anita O’Day alone are worth the price of admission, and Stern’s camera also captures the playing of Thelonious Monk, Louis Armstrong, Gerry Mulligan, Sonny Stitt, Chico Hamilton, Jimmy Guiffre, and Chuck Berry. The great gospel singer Mahalia Jackson closes the film.
JAZZ ON A SUMMER’S DAY is screening now on Kino Lorber’s Kino Marquee. See link below for details.
“I didn’t want to speak for black people. I wanted to speak to, and among…”
And it is shocking, in Greenfield-Sanders documentary, to come across such benighted critical voices as, say, Sara Blackburn’s in 1973, in America’s supposedly liberal newspaper of record:
“Toni Morrison is far too talented to remain only a marvelous recorder of the black side of provincial American life.”*
Removing the white male gaze as the dominant voice is a key element of Morrison’s practice, and she doesn’t hesitate calling out black writers who seemed to write to white audiences. Citing RalphEllison, she asks, “The Invisible Man? Invisible to whom?”
As a senior editor at Random House throughout the 1970s, Morrison discovered and championed books by Gayl Jones, Toni Cade Bambara, and Bettie Wysor (author of TheLesbian Myth). She also persuaded Angela Davis—then in her late twenties—to write her autobiography.
“Eventually I learned that the book she wanted to publish was the book I wanted to write… She helped me access my imagination in ways I continue to be grateful for today.” — Angela Davis
Song of Solomon (1977) was Morrison’s first best seller, and five years later she left her editor’s post to devote her time to writing and teaching. She’s professor emeritus at PrincetonUniversity, and often told her students, “I know you’ve been told, ‘write what you know.’ I don’t want you to do that. You don’t know anything.”
TONI MORRISON—THE PIECES I AM features interviews with Morrison’s friends and colleagues—Walter Mosley, Farah Griffin, Fran Lebowitz, Paula Giddings, Hilton Als, Sonia Sanchez, editor Robert Gottlieb, and Davis—as well as a rich selection of contemporary artwork by, among others, Mickalene Thomas, Jacob Lawrence, Gordon Parks, David Hammons, and Rashid Johnson.
Also see Ralph Ellison, “The Art of Romare Bearden,” in Art in America, 1945–1970: Writingsfrom the Age of Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, and Minimalism, edited by Jed Perl (New York: Library of America, 2014), 701–710.