Video Virgil: What Was Hip?
There's a new book out called "Hip: The History," by New York Times writer John Leland. It sounds fascinating, but if you want to witness the pure essence of hip, watch the DVD of "Jazz on a Summer's Day," Bert Stern's documentary about the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival.
"Documentary" is the wrong word, because this is a visual poem, as hip in its way as a solo by Dizzy Gillespie or a poem by Frank O'Hara.
Like all crucial words, hip is hard to define. Rooted in African-American musical culture, especially jazz, hip is also white, though not in the crude heavy-handed way of Norman Mailer's bone-headed essay, "The White Negro." Hip is in eclipse today, because it is neither crude (like most pop music) or heavy-handed (like most "serious" commentary on pop music).
The word hip originated in West Africa: "hepi" or "hipi" is Wolof for "to open your eyes." And Stern's wide-open camera eye gives us amazing close-ups of Jimmy Giuffre, Thelonious Monk, Anita O'Day, Sonny Stitt, Gerry Mulligan, Dinah Washington, Big Maybelle, Chuck Berry, Chico Hamilton, Louis Armstrong, and Mahalia Jackson.
Great artists, all. But great artists need great audiences, and what is most amazing about this film is its portrait of the crowd. Newport was no paradise - Stern himself described it as bringing not-rich New Yorkers, black and white, into a rich white enclave. Unlike the revelers at Woodstock eleven years later, this crowd did not fancy itself a utopian community. They just dug the music. But the way they dug it had a rare and magical beauty, and I for one am glad Stern was there to capture it.
AJ BlogsAJBlogCentral | rss
Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
rock culture approximately
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Art from the American Outback
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
No genre is the new genre
David Jays on theatre and dance
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
John Rockwell on the arts
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Martha Bayles on Film...
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
Exploring Orchestras w/ Henry Fogel
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds
Jerome Weeks on Books
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world
Public Art, Public Space
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
Tyler Green's modern & contemporary art blog