The film is also potent in arguing that the history of race in the 20th-century U.S. is at jazz's heart. But a few problems arise. First is Burns's reliance on Wynton Marsalis as his chief musical commentator. Marsalis might be charming and musically expert, but he's no historian. For the film to devote three of its episodes to the 1930s, one expects a bit more historical substance. Also, Jazz condenses the period of 1961 to the present into one episode, glossing over some of the music's giant steps. Burns has said repeatedly that he didn't know much about jazz when he began this project. So perhaps Jazz, for all its glory, would better be called Jazz: What I've Learned Since I Started Listening (And I Haven't Gotten Much Past 1961). For those who are already passionate about jazz, the film will stoke debate (and some derision, together with some reluctant praise). But for everyone else, it will amaze and entertain and kindle a flame for some of the greatest music ever dreamed. --Andrew Bartlett
The DVD set also includes three full-length performances not seen in the film: Louis Armstrong's "I Cover the Waterfront" from 1933, Duke Ellington's "C Jam Blues" from 1942, and Miles Davis's "New Rhumba" from 1959. Finally, the 16-minute documentary "Making of Jazz" provides insight into the production of the film. Ken Burns and producer Lynn Novick (who both admit their lack of musical training) discuss their process of researching and collecting materials, Wynton Marsalis mentions how he suggested to Burns the topic of jazz after the trumpeter became a fan of The Civil War, and narrator Keith David is shown recording his lines. --David Horiuchi
Ken Burns' "Jazz" gave me what I've been wanting for years--a clear, evocative, comprehensive way into the genre as a whole.
Okay, it may not be the last word on the history of jazz. Yeah, some things really irritated me--like the slighting, mentioned by many, of Bill Evans, and the excessive excision of many white musicians to make the generally accurate point that jazz springs more from the experience of Black Americans. (Hint to Burns: You make your argument stronger by showing how apparently contrary data fit, not by leaving them out.) But over all, I found this a very helpful overview. And I enjoyed getting to know the biographies of, and the personal relations among, the players.
You won't likely get such an orientation from buying a few of the original CDs *instead* of the "Jazz" series. Few of us have the ears or training to discern what's taught in this series. You'd be highly unlikely to realize that, for instance, what was new with Be-Bop is improvising on the underlying chord changes rather than the melody. You'd really have to be perceptive and paying attention to notice what distinguishes Kansas City jazz from New Orleans jazz from New York jazz from West Coast jazz. And *no* album can place *itself* in history. For instance, you cannot learn from listening to an album featuring Coleman Hawkins-or Charlie Christian or Kenny Clarke--that *before* that album people played very differently.Read more ›
Let's pretend that I don't know the first thing about the Kennedy assasination; in fact, let's say I didn't even know he was shot. Until I see Stone's JFK movie. And then when people who have explored the story for years start poking holes in Stone's account, I dismiss them as snobs. Or let's say I've watched Tammy and the T-Rex and I start going on about how realistic it is, and I shoot down any scientific or cinematographic objections as elitist party-pooping....
Look, this is not a great film, and the jazz-initiated needn't apologize for saying so. You've got a filmmaker who didn't know the slightest thing about the music when he started, and who relied heavily on the biased ear-whisperings of two of the most conservative, narrow jazz spokesmen you could find. If you want a lengthy bio of Louis Armstrong, it's here. If you want to learn about the Blues, you will. But if you want an in-depth look at what happens in bop, post-bop, free jazz, and early fusion, you won't learn much, if anything. You may walk away thinking that Elvin Jones played on Giant Steps, that Cecil Taylor was a charlatan, that "Hello Dolly" is more worthy of discussion than any of the high water marks of the 1960s, that there was only one true jazz record released in the 1970s. I mean, the more I think about this, the worse it gets.Read more ›