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A survey of the musical form's history and major talents.
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1  
2001  
Nominated for 5 Primetime Emmys. Another 2 wins & 2 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

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 Narrator (10 episodes, 2001)
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Storyline

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 <kchishol@home.com>

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Release Date:

8 January 2001 (USA)  »

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$13,000,000 (estimated)
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(10 episodes)

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1.33 : 1
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User Reviews

Interesting Overview; but biased and somewhat uninformed.
1 February 2001 | by (Cheney, WA) – See all my reviews

I am neither a musician nor a serious scholar of jazz, just a fan,but even I could see the flaws in Ken Burns' sometimes fascinating, other times infuriating documentary on the history of "America's music".

Spanning the century, this nineteen hour documentary is most effective at the beginning, when Burns' gift for research is most apparent. You can see the pains he took searching documentation and rare photographs to paint a picture of the roots of the music. However, as the narrative moves on, his over-reliance for third and fourth hand accounts and his own ignorance of the genre becomes apparent.

I am not going to go into the laundry list of "should have" musicians (Lionel Hampton, Stan Getz, JJ Johnson, Charles Mingus gets only ten minutes!) and others that got short shrift or weren't even mentioned. I'd be here all day.

However, I will say that Burns obviously relied too much on critics and writers in putting together his material. Towards the end, especially when they begin to talk of the 50's and 60's, the whole program begins to have the taint of academia all over it.

For example, the 50s phenomenon of the wildly popular California-based "cool jazz" is dismissed by critic Nat Hentoff as "bland" and then never mentioned again.

I am sorry to disagree with the distinguished Mr. Hentoff, but as anyone who has heard the recordings of such greats as Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker can atest, the music they were producing was just as creative and exciting as their East Coast, black contemporaries.

To people like Mr. Hentoff, the west coast musicians committed the ultimate sin of being white and somewhat popular. Much of the documentary continues along the same "us vs. them" vein.

It seems the people who assisted Mr. Burns took advantage of his ignorance and stamped their orthodox biases on what could have been a great work. Whole genres and types (fusion, Cubano, Brazillian) are either dismissed outright or ignored. It reinforces my view that critics are the most useless species on the face of the planet.

However, I do have to admit that many parts were fascinating. When Burns does interview eyewitnesses to certain events, it shows the flashes of "what might have been". I just wish that he wouldn't have blindly followed the opinions of the the critics and academics and let the audience discover for themselves what to think.


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