In 1958, Chuck Berry played Rhode Island’s Newport Jazz Festival. He was a rare rock & roll act alongside acts like Thelonious Monk, Max Roach, Louis Armstrong and Dinah Washington. The festival was immortalized in Bert Stern’s remarkable documentary Jazz on a Summer’s Day. The most stunning moment of the film is Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen.” He begins his performance relatively reserved, playing a plodding version of the single with the house band. But soon, he loosens up, swinging his hips, hoisting his Gibson guitar up, duck-walking across the stage over a clarinet solo.
Keith Richards recalled seeing that moment as a kid to Rolling Stone in 2015: “When I saw Chuck in Jazz on a Summer’s Day as a teenager, what struck me was how he was playing against the grain with a bunch of jazz guys,” Richards said. “They were brilliant – guys like Jo Jones on drums and Jack Teagarden on trombone – but they had that jazz attitude cats put on sometimes: “Ooh… this rock & roll…” With ‘Sweet Little Sixteen,’ Chuck took them all by storm and played against their animosity. To me, that’s blues. That’s the attitude and the guts it takes. That’s what I wanted to be, except I was white.”
“I listened to every lick he played and picked it up. Chuck got it from T-Bone Walker, and I got it from Chuck, Muddy Waters, Elmore James and B.B. King . We’re all part of this family that goes back thousands of years. Really, we’re all passing it on.”