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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>
A flawed and incomplete overview of the greatest American music
When I learned that Ken Burn's "Jazz" was going to be on TV I was very excited; and prepared a bunch of empty tapes to record it. The previews made it seem like the most perfect documentary that I, then a jazz musician in the making, could watch. However, as the series went on, I became supremely disappointed. This series, though most of it was very interesting to me and I learned a lot from it, is seriously flawed in presenting this most American of art forms and leaves me feeling hurt for the great people that the series failed to even mention, while others much less great were somehow squeezed in.
The first few episodes of the series are great, they are superbly done and I enjoyed them throughly. However, passed the bebop era, the series goes rapidly downhill. It skips everything that stems away from the most traditional of jazz, mocks fusion - which is really, like it or not, definitely a big part of jazz and is mostly responsible for it's continued survival, skips all important jazzmen of the 70's and 80's - how could they have done a series about jazz without even a single mention of a giant like Chick Corea is beyond me - and ends on a weird and unclear note, where they present a bunch of unknown young jazz musicians, that are (save for Joshua Redman and Christian McBride) should not have been in the documentary ahead of many giants that were not included. I still have no idea who half of those people are, even after searching for something of theirs. Very fishy.
Herbie Hancock, who is a pillar of Jazz and probably the most important Jazz-man of the last 30 years, was barely mentioned as a part of Miles Davis' group. Fellow pianist and jazz giant Chick Corea, who created an enormous body of work that influences young players all over the world (there is no pianist in jazz today who was not influenced by Corea, whether they know it or not) was not mentioned at all. Also there was no mention of such important players as Jaco Pastorius, who established the electric bass as a serious instrument and transformed modern jazz forever, Michael Brecker, the biggest influence on saxophonists since Wayne Shorter (me among them), Pat Metheny, the guitar giant who managed to turn creative Jazz into a accessible and popular music but without sacrificing it's intensity or complexity..
And here, in the section about "the revival" of Jazz, they show me a bunch of young faces I haven't even heard of, some of whom are frankly just "purists" who are trying to play like the old jazz giants without a hint of originality or message to their music. This is not the future of Jazz as far as I am concerned, and I was insulted for those greats that were not even mentioned when those unknown kids came on the screen.
Not that I'm in any way trying to belittle the colossal contribution of Louis Armstrong (who, by the way, is the reason I became interested in Jazz in the first place), but some of the screen time they gave him could have been used to at least mention many greats that were omitted. Also, I felt that Ken Burns tried very hard to turn the history of Jazz into a documentary about civil rights of blacks in America, and though it is, of course, very relevant to the issue at hand, it was still dealt way too much screen time until in becomes tiring and you find yourself fast-forwarding through those parts to see what actually happens to the musicians themselves.
As far as I am concerned, this is a very lacking production, that starts off great and then completely misleads the viewers that are uneducated in jazz to believe that jazz between the death of John Coltrane and the emergence of Wynton Marsalis did not exist at all. Too bad. In my opinion, the series is - at best - incomplete. It leaves the impression of a documentary about Jazz made by purists for purists, completely disregarding a huge chunk of very important Jazz, and mockingly downplaying it to boot.
5 out of 10, only by virtue of how well it was technically done.
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