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Friday, 5 July 2013

The man who brought jazz, and style, into the sunlight ...

Original hipsters ...
Looking Our Best struggles with a lot of things.  The 5:2 diet.  Leg waxing. Queue jumpers. Cabbage. The baffling popularity of the Daily Mail’s‘Sidebar of Shame’.  But as the author of a style blog for well-dressed middle-agers, LOB really struggles to define that word itself: style. 

It’s easier to say what style is not. It’s never to be confused with fashion, for example.  Fashion is dictated by seasonal trends, spending money, wearing designer labels like trophies, and a certain slavishness. Style is freedom.   It’s timeless. It can be created with something inexpensive from a charity shop. It is not top-to-toe brands.  Most of us know really stylish people, yet can’t exactly put into words why they are so.  Because style is not really about clothes. It’s to do with our visual connection with the world, and the old saying that 90% of communication is non-verbal. Style is simplicity, an elegance, a beauty of form, line and colour. A coming together of everything that pleases the eye. 
Impressionistic images of the water

A reminder of what style is came to your blogger last weekend, on hearing of the death of photographer Bert Stern.  In all of the obituaries of the 83-year-old Brooklyn-born Stern, the focus has been on his collection of photographs of Marilyn Monroe from the summer of 1962. These images, commissioned by Vogue, became collectively known as The Last Sitting as the 36-year-old actress died just six weeks after they were taken.  Stern is also the subject of a recent documentary ‘Bert Stern: Original Mad Man’, the title referring to his creative transformation of mundane ads into something akin to an art form in the Madison Avenue of the late 1950s.

For anyone seeking an example of style’s timelessness however, it’s Stern’s co-directed film of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival that blends a seductive harmony of image and sound. Jazz on a Summer’s Day was first screened at the 1959 Venice Film Festival, and proved a landmark in documentary filming, especially the filming of musical events. The very first scenes of light dancing on the waters off Newport look as if created by an impressionist painter’s brush rather than a camera. And it’s the concentration on the people at the festival, almost as much as the musicians and singers, which captures the viewer. Almost.

Stern himself reflected many years after that his focus at the time was to bring “jazz out into the sun. Usually jazz films are all black-and-white, kind of depressing, and in little downstairs nightclubs.”  He and co-director Aram Avakian dispelled the smoky greyness associated with the music by shooting with what they called ‘colour-saturated’ Kodachrome film. If The Great Gatsby became shorthand for the jazz age in the Long Island of the 1920s, Stern set a new standard with his l958 jazz film, and featuring, unusually given the social and political climate of those times, a mixed race audience and cast of performers. Glimpses of elegance just about everywhere ranged from singer 
Anita O'Day putting on the style
Anita O’Day, resplendent in cocktail dress, picture hat and white gloves, to a suave Chuck Berry in black tuxedo. 

Fans feature as strongly as the musicians
The camera switches intermittently to the crowd, showing the hipsters of the day in their cool shades; further away groups of young people are captured at a house party;  then the lens returns to linger on a couple in jeans, jiving languorously to Berry’s Sweet Little Sixteen. When gospel singer Mahalia Jackson finally appears on stage, there is a palpable epiphany that music may be the closest thing to the divine we humans can experience. 

If pictures really do tell a story, then the man who brought jazz into the sunlight also gave us one of the best definitions of style. And no words necessary…

1 comment:

  1. Cannot sleep with the heat- no better way to pass the time than another great read from LOB