|Jazz: A Film by Ken Burns|
|Written by||Geoffrey Ward|
|Directed by||Ken Burns|
|Narrated by||Keith David|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of episodes||10|
|Producer(s)||Ken Burns, Lynn Novick|
|Cinematography||Buddy Squires, Ken Burns|
|Running time||1140 minutes|
|Budget||USD $13 million|
|Original release||January 8 –|
Jazz is a 2001 television documentary miniseries, directed by Ken Burns. It was broadcast on PBS in 2001, and was released on DVD and VHS on January 2, 2001 by the same company. Its chronological and thematic episodes provided a history of jazz, emphasizing innovative composers and musicians and American history. Swing musicians Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington are the central figures. Several episodes discussed the later contributions of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie to bebop, and of Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, and John Coltrane to free and cool jazz. Nine episodes surveyed forty-five years (1917–1961), leaving the final episode to cover forty years (1961–2001). The series was produced by Florentine Films in cooperation with the BBC and in association with WETA-TV, Washington.
The documentary concerned the history of jazz music in the United States, from its origins at the turn of the 20th century to the present day. It was narrated by Keith David and featured interviews with present-day musicians and critics such as trumpeter Wynton Marsalis (also the artistic director and co-producer of Jazz) and critics Gary Giddins and Stanley Crouch. Music critic and African-American historian Gerald Early was a consultant. Broadcaster and producer Phil Schaap was interviewed briefly.
Visually, Jazz was in the same style as Ken Burns' previous works: slowly panning and zooming shots of photographs are mixed with period movie sequences, accompanied by music of, and commentary on, the period being examined. Between these sequences, present-day jazz figures provided anecdotes and explained the defining features of the major musicians' styles. Duke Ellington's "I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart" (1938) was a recurring motif at the opening and closing of individual episodes of the series.
The documentary focused on a number of major musicians: Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington are the central figures, "providing the narrative thread around which the stories of other major figures turn", among them Sidney Bechet, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and John Coltrane.
A number of companion CDs were released simultaneously.
Each two-hour episode of the ten episodes of Jazz covered a different era.
Response and criticism
Jazz was nominated for several awards, including multiple Emmy Awards.
Among the critics with a positive response, Charles Paul Freund wrote that Jazz "is filled with rewards, many of them proffered unintentionally... Burns's documentary gifts are not visionary, analytical, nor even properly historical. Rather, he is a talented biographer, and his films are most effective when he is able to present an overarching narrative in terms of the biographical detail of that narrative's participants."
Jason Van Bergen said, "The nearly 19 hours of documentary coverage contained in the Jazz series unravels like a fine wine", and due to the series' attention to detail, "a complete discussion of every episode in Ken Burns's Jazz would be better suited for a Master's Thesis" than to his brief review. Van Bergen concluded, "Burns's encyclopedic rendering of the growth of jazz cannot be questioned. Followers of the music will need this set on their shelves; but perhaps slightly more surprisingly, serious students of American history may also require the set to supplement their versions of the past century.".
Ben Ratliff, in the New York Times, wrote of Jazz that "its major thematic device is effective, and would not come naturally to a music-focused jazz historian. It is to show what happens when American whites and blacks encounter each other, not in the abstract but person to person, and make some sort of connection. "
Gene Santoro, writing in The Nation, notes that what it does it does well enough to be a valid point of view: "If Burns had cut the final episode and billed this as Jazz: The First 50 Years, more of the discussion might be where it belongs–on the movie." This is a sentiment illustrated by critics who dismiss the series for its focus on history, even when they like the history, such as William Berlind writing in the Observer that "In allowing Mr. Marsalis to guide him, Mr. Burns has ultimately done us a disservice. He has managed to make a vital, evolving music seem dead and static."
Writing in the National Review, Deroy Murdock points out that "the TV documentary sometimes feels like Thanksgiving dinner. It’s rich, delightful, filling, altogether satisfying, and, here and there, hypnotic... Burns’s film is never dull. It’s fascinating and captivating."
The series also received criticisms from reviewers. Critic Jeffrey St. Clair wrote,
Ken Burns's interminable documentary, Jazz, starts with a wrong premise and degenerates from there... Burns is a classicist, who is offended by the rawer sounds of the blues, its political dimension and inescapable class dynamic. Instead, Burns fixates on a particular kind of jazz music that appeals to his PBS sensibility: the swing era. It's a genre of jazz that enables Burns to throw around phrases such as 'Ellington is our Mozart.' He sees jazz as an art form in the most culturally elitist sense, as being a museum piece, beautiful but dead, to be savored like a stroll through a gallery of paintings by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
Critic David Adler wrote,
"Burns has done a respectable job of introducing pre-1960 jazz history to a wide audience. In 'Episode Ten,' however, he gives viewers a disastrously skewed portrait of the creative lineage that has produced much of today's best jazz."
Stu Vandermark's detailed review of Jazz contended that there were substantial factual errors in the documentary. He noted that the series repeats the idea that jazz music was created in New Orleans; on the contrary, writes Vandermark, "no one really knows where jazz was born... It is likely that the music evolved spontaneously in different cities around the U.S. wherever there were a few thousand black people making lives for themselves."
Some critics found the series "too radical," as recounted in The Guardian (UK), "The series' principal totemic figures, quite rightly, are Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. Since a large proportion of Jazz is devoted to the swing era, two white bandleaders, Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw, are also given prominence - as, later on, is Dave Brubeck. But even some critics who have spent their lives arguing for a proper recognition of jazz's African-American essence believe that Burns - with the encouragement of Marsalis, Crouch and Murray - has pushed the Afrocentric line so far that the refusal to give credit to the contribution of white musicians undermines the series' historical accuracy." At the same time, other reviews criticized the work for not being Afrocentric enough, "...Burns recoils from the fact that Davis, Coltrane, Coleman and their descendents [sic] have taken jazz not toward soft, white-friendly swing sound but deeper into the urban black experience."
But at its heart, the failure to engage the music of jazz ultimately undermines the series. As Frank Tirro writes, "He gives, as one example, Louis Armstrong's 'West End Blues' as 'a reflection of the country in the moments before the Great Depression.' I cannot see how he can support this statement. What is it reflecting? The African Americans in Harlem, the Wall Street entrepreneurs, or the white middle-class farmers in Kansas and Iowa? This is bull-session history. Gunther Schuller says in Early Jazz (1968):
Louis's 'West End Blues' . . . startles us with the powerful thrust and punch of its first four notes. We are immediately aware of their terrific swing, despite the fact that these four notes occur on the beat . . . The four notes should be heard by all people who do not understand the difference between jazz and other music.
I understand what Schuller means and can check his words against the music itself." And he notes that "In nearly every instance, even when a work is touted as a masterpiece, it is treated as elevator and restaurant music, something to be talked over and relegated to some level of subliminal perception. The height of disrespect and lack of awareness occurs when the narrator cites a performance as a defining work of art and then the director allows the sound engineer to change the music to fit the demands of the script."
On November 7, 2000, 22 companion single-artist compilation albums, all titled Ken Burns Jazz, were released by the Verve and Columbia/Legacy labels. A five CD box set, Ken Burns Jazz: The Story of America's Music, was also released, along with a single album sampler of that box set (The Best of Ken Burns Jazz).
The following albums were released by Verve:
- Count Basie - Allmusic link
- Art Blakey - Allmusic link
- John Coltrane - Allmusic link
- Ella Fitzgerald - Allmusic link
- Dizzy Gillespie - Allmusic link
- Coleman Hawkins - Allmusic link
- Billie Holiday - Allmusic link
- Charlie Parker - Allmusic link
- Sonny Rollins - Allmusic link
- Sarah Vaughan - Allmusic link
- Lester Young - Allmusic link
The following albums were released by Columbia/Legacy:
- Louis Armstrong - Allmusic link
- Sidney Bechet - Allmusic link
- Dave Brubeck - Allmusic link
- Ornette Coleman - Allmusic link
- Miles Davis - Allmusic link
- Duke Ellington - Allmusic link
- Benny Goodman - Allmusic link
- Herbie Hancock - Allmusic link
- Fletcher Henderson - Allmusic link
- Charles Mingus - Allmusic link
- Thelonious Monk - Allmusic link
- Various Artists - The Best of Ken Burns Jazz - Allmusic link
- Various Artists - Ken Burns Jazz: The Story of America's Music - Allmusic link
In 2002, Columbia also released two low-priced box sets, each containing three of the previously released single-artist collections.
- Ken Burns Jazz, Vol. 1 (Includes Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Benny Goodman compilations) - Allmusic link
- Ken Burns Jazz, Vol. 2 (Includes Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, and Dave Brubeck compilations) - Allmusic link
- "Episode Descriptions". Jazz: A Film by Ken Burns website. Arlington, Virginia: PBS. Retrieved 2013-10-30.
- "Columbia Records/Legacy Recordings and The Verve Music Group To Jointly Release Recordings From 'JAZZ,' a Film by Ken Burns". PRNewswire. Cision. August 9, 2000. Archived from the original on August 15, 2000. Retrieved June 11, 2019 – via Yahoo.com.
- Mark Gilbert, Amazon.co.uk review
- Charles Paul Freund, "Epic Jazz", Reason magazine online, January 8, 2001
- Jason Van Bergen, "Ken Burns: Jazz" Archived 2005-05-07 at the Wayback Machine, December 11, 2002
- Ratliff, Ben (2001-01-07). "Fixing, For Now, The Image Of Jazz". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-01-01.
- Santoro, Gene (2001-01-12). "All That Jazz". ISSN 0027-8378. Retrieved 2020-01-01.
- "Burns' Jazz Doesn't Swing". Observer. 2001-01-15. Retrieved 2020-01-01.
- "A Jazz Feast". National Review. 2001-01-06. Retrieved 2020-01-01.
- Jeffrey St. Clair, "Now, That's Not Jazz", February 28, 2001. Reprinted in Oct. 2014 in CounterPunch.
- Adler, David R. "Ken Burns's JAZZ: The Episode Ten Fiasco", no publication date noted
- Stu Vandermark, "A Ken Burns's Jazz Post-Mortem" https://www.scribd.com/doc/61453139/Ken-Burns-Essay
- "Jazz: the obituary | The Guardian | guardian.co.uk". www.theguardian.com. Retrieved 2020-01-01.
- "How Ken Burns Murdered Jazz". CounterPunch.org. 2014-10-31. Retrieved 2020-01-01.
- "Teachinghistory.org". teachinghistory.org. Retrieved 2020-01-02.