Accompanied by a menagerie of products, Ken Burns's expansive 10-episode paean, Jazz
, completes his trilogy on American culture, following The Civil War
. Spanning more than 19 hours, Jazz
is, of course, about a lot more than what many have called America's classical music--especially in episodes 1 through 7. It's here that Burns unearths precious visual images of jazz musicians and hangs historical narratives around the music with convincing authority. Time can stand still as images float past to the sound of grainy vintage jazz, and the drama of a phonograph needle being placed on Louis Armstrong's celestial "West End Blues" is nearly sublime.
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 version of Jazz
offers a "music information" mode, in which the title of a song is displayed when it is played in the film. Pressing the Title button jumps the viewer out of the film to a screen that lists that song's composer, performers (including all band members, not just the headliner), year of recording, and album and record company information when applicable (and no, all the credits are not to the series' own CDs). Another click of the Title button returns the viewer to the film. When music information mode is turned off, song titles are not displayed but the Title button still accesses the song credits. Each DVD's scene-selection menu lists only the 10 subchapters, but in fact each song is individually tracked (50 to 80 tracks per DVD).
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