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Ken Burns Jazz

Keith David , Charles J. Correll    Unrated   VHS Tape
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (129 customer reviews)

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Product Details

Product Description


Accompanied by a menagerie of products, Ken Burns's expansive 10-episode paean, Jazz, completes his trilogy on American culture, following The Civil War and Baseball. 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

Special Features

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

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Provides a very useful orientation Feb. 11 2003
Jazz is a relatively recent interest for me--maybe half a dozen years. I'd learned about scattered fragments of jazz, but never developed a systematic understanding, a clear orientation--though a couple of times I'd tried: I bought Gary Giddons' "Visions of Jazz," for instance, which is very good but just didn't capture my imagination.
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.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Engaging but massively flawed June 18 2004
By A Customer
This series played a major role in turning me into a ardent lover of jazz: the sights and sounds you'll encounter are truly memorable and moving, whetting your appetite for more. But as so many other jazz fans have noted, vast swathes of the music (like the last four decades) are brazenly and inexcusably ignored in favor of portraying the ultra-narrow, retrograde Wynton Marsalis/Stanley Crouch version of jazz history--a perspective most jazz fans and musicians vehemently disagree with. If you'd like more balanced, less biased, more insightful histories of jazz, check out the books Jazz 101 by John F. Szwed and The History of Jazz by Ted Gioia, for starters.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars It's Gumbo-riffic! Jan. 22 2004
It's interesting that the majority of positive reviews, here and elsewhere, come from people who A) confess that they are relative newcomers to the music, and B) find space to take potshots at jazz "snobs" who don't like the series. Well, derogatory word or not, shouldn't a snob or elitist have a better idea of whether this film does justice to its subject?
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.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars All That Jazz Dec 28 2012
By Molly
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
A very complete history of Jazz, although some may wish there was more about the "modern" era of Jazz. The series contains some wonderful clips of musicians playing the music.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Seemed Good to Me Jan. 13 2011
Generally, I would recommend this to the average person as a great starting-off point for learning about jazz. I am no expert on Jazz but I have played drums in a jazz band and have been listening to jazz for many years and this documentary worked for me. OK, maybe it's not perfect but overall it gave me a pretty good understanding of the history of jazz. There's some great footage and still photos of many of the jazz greats. Also, the series contains some very good interviews with the players and people who were there at the time. I am not aware of any other documentary that handles the history of jazz in such a comprehensive manner.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars too exclusionist May 11 2001
By A Customer
interesting in parts but too exclusionist to survive as a documentary. where is reference to bill evans, among others? blacks may have invented jazz, but they don't own it. the ethnic agenda underlying this history is deeply disturbing. ken burns should redo the documentary, but with several advisors of different persuasions, not just one with a colored ax to grind.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth the investment if you love Jazz
Ken Burns manages the best historical overview of the subject, and did so when many of the people involved were still alive. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Robert T. Boyter
5.0 out of 5 stars Phenominal historical coverage of the development of jazz
Loved the Ken Burns Jazz Series. The historical films and photographs are outstanding. From a jazz standpoint, I didn't find the development of jazz in the last three discs to my... Read more
Published 9 months ago by CHRIS L JOHNSTON
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Gift for my dad who has everything
My father who is going to hte cuban jass festival this christmas was very happy with his gift this year. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Cathy Tassie
5.0 out of 5 stars Burns' Jazz History
I think the rap against relying on Marsalis for history is unjustified. I think Winton comments more on stylistic traits of musicians. Read more
Published 22 months ago by Donald Wayne Bridge
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding! Central to understanding jazz
This collection of DVDs is a wonderful thing. I bought it because I had seen an episode on PBS. I needed to see more. Ever so glad to have made the decision to see it all. Read more
Published on March 13 2011 by LDuncan
5.0 out of 5 stars History of Jazz
An excellent history of Jazz from it earliest beginnings to where we are today. Highly recommended to those who grew up in this time period.
Published on Aug. 31 2010 by Don B.
4.0 out of 5 stars It's about a lot more than just the music.
This series is about the musical life and times of my parents' generation.

My parents were teenagers in the Depression, and young adults during the War. Read more
Published on Feb. 21 2010 by Demosthenes
5.0 out of 5 stars A long history of American Jazz
This ten dvd set of hour and a half and two hour videos covers in great detail the history of American Jazz musicians and their music. Read more
Published on Oct. 17 2009 by bookoholic
3.0 out of 5 stars Could have been so much better
I guess it says something that I have gone back and watched Burns' "Civil War" documentary more than a dozen times since I first saw it, and have only watch... Read more
Published on July 8 2004 by chefdevergue
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent for what it is
It's surprizing how vociferously some "snobs" condemn "Jazz" simply because it's not as comprehensive as they seem to think it should be. Read more
Published on July 6 2004
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