Back in 1960 the United States Information Agency filmed and released overseas an astounding 26 half hour compilations of performances from the Newport Jazz Festival. But since the musician’s union required that there be no domestic distribution …. I have even heard, not verified, that they demanded the films be destroyed after use …. they are exceedingly rare. (A while back the union actually granted official permission for an East Coast filmmaker to use some clips in a documentary. Apparently, he did not follow all of the rules, and now the films are locked down tighter than before.) Some years ago a film collector contacted me, said he had one of the 1/2 reels, would sell it to me, cash deal, no names, just meet at the mall outside of Orange Julius. A USIA operative perhaps?
In any case, the series was title JAZZ USA, and it featured such artists as Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson, Herbie Mann, Horace Silver, Cannonball Adderley, Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, Muddy Waters, Pee Wee Russell and many others. All featurettes were hosted by Willis Conover.
It is my guess that the performances were originally filmed in color film, quite possible on 16mm stock. But for some reason (to save money, on what was a one-time release overseas?) the prints were struck in black and white …. hence, the somewhat tinny sound, and grainy nature of what you will be see on screen Complete performance sets were not released as such, since each 1/2 hour reel was structured to present a sense of musical variety. And it is possible that individual numbers were reused in more than one of the half hour featurettes.
This week we feature one performance from JAZZ USA, a rousing version of Seems Like You Just Don’t Care, sung by Dakota Staton, and accompanied by the John Malachi Trio. Dakota was a fine jazz vocalist whose gospel-blues based style brings to mind Dinah Washington. Della Reese, and perhaps Nancy Wilson. She came to prominence in the 1950s and recorded for Capitol Records. With Nat Cole and Franks Sinatra also on the label, Miss Staton was traveling in pretty fast company! Her 1957 album “The Late Late Show,” with arrangements by Van Alexander, is terrific listening.
Despite having a career that lasted into the mid 1990s, Dakota never seemed to get a break, perhaps a cross over hit (read “What A Difference a day Makes, by Dinah Washington) that made her popular with mass audiences. Her performance of “Seems Like You Just Don’t Care” is one of ten that she presented at the Newport Jazz Festival on July 2, 1960. (She recorded the song the previous year, with the credit for the composition and lyrics going to one R. McCoy. Screamin’ Jay Hawkins also recorded the song . I’ll bet that recording is a real hoot, as our Canadian friends wold say.) For the record, the John Malachi Trio features leader Malachi on piano. Sonny Wellesley on string bass, and Khalil Madi on drums.