This series explores the history of the major American musical form. We track its development in African American culture, its rise to prominence with its golden age of popularity spanning from the 1920's to the mid 1940's both in its original form and in Swing through its popular decline and the rise of vital new sub-genres into the present day. Along the way, we learn of the lives and work of major contributors to the form such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman, Charlie "Bird" Parker and many others who helped form Jazz into the vibrant musical form it is. Moreover, we see how the music reflected the political and social issues of the African American community over the course of the form's history. Written by
Kenneth Chisholm <email@example.com>
Once you learn more about Jazz on your own, the more "Jazz" feels incomplete
Ken Burns' Jazz documentary, which is a twenty-hour documentary (too long or not long enough would be the argument, I'd go with not long enough), details the history of Jazz from its origins in Ragtime, up until the 1960's. It is indeed insightful for those who do not know the histories of these people, pretty much all of them terrific or outstanding, and it does try to take you inside their world. As one who has only really gotten into Jazz within the past few years, as just a history lesson it keeps attention most of the way through.
The problems one can find in the documentary could be really squared down to two. The first is that Burns, while talented and obviously with a good research team and plethora of pictorial aids, forgets something about Jazz- it's supposed to be fun! There's something about the sense of humor and vitality of jazz that gets lost among the heavy-handed narrations, that make jazz out to be as mighty and colossal as the Greeks or the Romans. Jazz is important to the world of music, but much of what is spoken trumps most of the experiences in the stories (not that a few of them aren't entertaining- most of the stuff involving Armstrong, Bix, Blaisie, and Art Tatum keeps interest that way). The second problem, which is a given considering the length of the documentary, is that there isn't enough room for everyone, and after Miles and Coltrane, it just halts. It would be intriguing if Burns went back and did a 'special edition' treatment, and cover more ground on what he had, and expand into the great jazz that did come out since the 60's (and there has been a few, believe you/me).
If you're wanting to get into the atmosphere, the moods and histories (and of course the music, some of it rare here) on Jazz, basically this is the best place to start. But if you're already an aficionado, or if you don't have the utmost attention span to watch all of the footage, it may comes to let-down.
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