Jazz: A Film By Ken Burns [10 Discs] [DVD]

  • SKU: 7535358
  • Release Date: 09/28/2004
  • Rating: NR
  • 5.0 (1)
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Synopsis

Ken Burns' Jazz, Episode 5: Swing - Pure Pleasure, 1935-1937
Episode five of Ken Burns' series deals with jazz during the increasingly bleak Great Depression from 1935 to 1937. Swing music is now the most popular music of the time. Young fans flock to dance halls to swing their troubles away. Bandleaders such as Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmie Lunceford, and Artie Shaw are worshipped by their fans like matinee idols. Then Goodman, risking his career, forms the first racially integrated jazz group with the brilliant pianist Teddy Wilson. Meanwhile, Billie Holiday emerges from a rough childhood and is soon heralded as one of the greatest jazz vocalists ever. As 1937 comes to an end, Goodman heads to the Savoy Ballroom for what is billed as "The Music Battle of the Century" -- a musical face-off with Chick Webb's big band. Despite the tough competition, it's obvious to the many dancers on the floor who is the true "King of Swing." ~ Matt Collar, Rovi

Ken Burns' Jazz, Episode 8: Risk, 1945-1946
Episode eight -- 1945 to 1955 -- of Ken Burns' series finds jazz musicians reflecting the prosperity and tension of the postwar years in their music. Charlie "Bird" Parker garners legions of devoted followers who imitate not only his brilliant soloing, but also his heroin addiction -- a problem that will plague jazz through the 1950s. As the big bands fade, small-group jazz becomes de rigeur: dancing is out and experimentation is in. Dizzy Gillespie infuses bebop with Latin rhythms, employing congero Chano Pozo. And pianist Thelonious Monk creates angular and percussive jazz all his own. Despite this surge in creativity, most people prefer the new, simpler, dance-oriented rhythm & blues of artists like Louis Jordan. Meanwhile, in California, jazz musicians influence a mellow album featuring the arrangements of Gil Evans and the trumpet of Miles Davis, creating what is soon called "cool" jazz. Dave Brubeck helps lead the charge by recording his million-selling album "Time Out". But as the '50s wear on, Davis moves away from cool jazz and begins his own creative journey as the "pied piper" of jazz. ~ Matt Collar, Rovi

Ken Burns' Jazz, Episode 3: Our Language, 1924-1928
Episode three of Ken Burns' comprehensive series -- which covers 1924 to 1929 -- shows how jazz reflected the atmosphere of the country just before the Depression. We meet Bessie Smith, the first influential female vocalist who helped forge new roads for black record labels by performing the blues. There is also the tragic story of the first great white jazz musician, cornetist Bix Beiderbecke, who would create some of the most poignant and melodic solos of his day and then die at age 28, from complications arising from his alcoholism. Burns touches on the Harlem Renaissance's connection with the development of jazz, relating the career of Duke Ellington at Harlem's white-patrons-only Cotton Club and his influence on Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw. The episode culminates with a meditation on Louis Armstrong's brilliant recording "West End Blues" and how it captured the tumultuous atmosphere of America right before the stock market crash. ~ Matt Collar, Rovi

Ken Burns' Jazz, Episode 4: The True Welcome, 1929-1935
Episode four of Ken Burns's acclaimed series -- covering 1929 to 1934 -- finds jazz musicians facing the collapse of the American economy during the Great Depression. While a quarter of the nation's workforce is without work, jazz musicians thrive. The advent of a new dance called the Lindy Hop brings audiences to legendary dance halls like the Savoy Ballroom to swing with Chick Webb's big band. Fats Waller and Art Tatum take solo piano to new heights of virtuosity and Duke Ellington, now being compared to Stravinsky, transcends racial stereotypes while touring the country. Then, at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles, a struggling and brilliant clarinetist leads his band on stage and starts up a Fletcher Henderson arrangement. It is at this moment that Benny Goodman's swinging sound finally breaks through to a generation kicking off the Swing Era. ~ Matt Collar, Rovi

Ken Burns' Jazz, Episode 1: Gumbo, Beginnings to 1917
In a similar fashion to his other documentaries, The Civil War and Baseball, Ken Burns uses historical fact and personal accounts to illuminate the story of jazz and how it coincided with the maturation of America. Jazz roots itself in New Orleans for its first installment, Gumbo. One of the 19th century's most progressive cities, the "wide open" town was filled with gambling, prostitution, crime -- and music. Burns shows how African-American musicians combined Caribbean rhythms, opera, minstrel shows, and (most importantly) marching bands with ragtime and the blues to produce a music that would soon be called "jass," and later "jazz." The viewer is introduced to such legendary innovators of the music as Buddy Bolden -- the trumpet player who, although never recorded, is mythically touted as the first true jazz musician -- and pianist Jelly Roll Morton, who flamboyantly claimed to have invented jazz (he was the first to notate the music on paper). It is also made apparent how race played a large factor in the development of the music. In 1917, a group of white musicians calling themselves the Original Dixieland Jazz Band recorded the first jazz record and quickly became a huge success -- at once polarizing black musicians and ringing in the "Jazz Age." ~ Matt Collar, Rovi

Ken Burns' Jazz, Episode 10: A Masterpiece by Midnight, 1961-Present
The final installment of Ken Burns' acclaimed series -- canvassing 1960 to the present -- finds jazz searching for relevance. Despite Louis Armstrong outselling the Beatles with Hello Dolly, most jazz musicians are scuffling to find work, let alone be heard. Most young people listen to rock music. The "free jazz" of artists such as John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman takes the music in increasingly avant-garde -- and non-commercial -- directions. Musicians and critics alike begin to debate the future and tradition of jazz. In typical fashion, Miles Davis at once illuminates and compounds the issue with Bitches Brew, his landmark fusion album. Toward the end of the 1970s, the deaths of both Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington seemed to mark the end of the development of jazz. But, the prodigal return of saxophonist Dexter Gordon from Europe incited a new generation to revisit the jazz of the past and rejuvenate the music. Soon a virtuosic young trumpeter, proficient in both classical and jazz music, is leading the movement to bring the tradition of jazz full circle. Wynton Marsalis, a native of New Orleans -- the birthplace of jazz music -- takes it into the next century. ~ Matt Collar, Rovi

Ken Burns' Jazz, Episode 6: Swing - The Velocity of Celebration, 1937-1939
Episode six of Ken Burns's series -- covering 1937 to 1939 -- finds swing fans decrying the commercialization of big band jazz. Soon, an exciting new swing sound, infused with the blues and centered around improvisation, is reinvigorating jazz audiences and musicians alike. The focal point of this movement is Kansas City, and Count Basie's band leads the charge of the "Territory Bands" -- so-called because of their mid-western roots. Kansas City swing enters the spotlight in 1938 when Basie's band performs alongside Benny Goodman's at Carnegie Hall. Soon after the set, the group travels uptown to the Savoy Ballroom and a legendary battle of the bands with Chick Webb. By the end of the '30s, Basie's lead saxophonist Lester Young has risen to the forefront of jazz and with a laid-back, mellow approach that will influence such later jazz luminaries as Miles Davis. Young also pairs with Billie Holiday who eventually records the incendiary anti-lynching ballad "Strange Fruit". By the decade's end, Chick Webb similarly garners fame and fortune with a young singer named Ella Fitzgerald, and as war breaks out in Europe, Coleman Hawkins records the ballad "Body and Soul" in such a way that prefigures the sound of jazz to come. ~ Matt Collar, Rovi

Ken Burns' Jazz, Episode 7: Dedicated to Chaos, 1940-1945
The seventh part of Ken Burns' series covers the years 1940 to 1945 and finds jazz at the center of battles at home and abroad during World War II. Glenn Miller and Artie Shaw enlist in the armed forces and take their bands overseas to entertain the troops. Hitler bans jazz in Germany despite -- or rather, because of -- its underground popularity with "swing kids." Yet, as jazz serves as a symbol of American democracy in Europe, many black Americans still aren't allowed to hear freedom swing. The Savoy Ballroom is closed down to keep white servicemen from its integrated swing dances, and riots ensue. Despite the hypocrisy of the era, Duke Ellington sells war bonds and pairs with a brilliant young composer named Billy Strayhorn to write some of the most compelling work of his career. Meanwhile, a cadre of young musicians gathering nightly at a Harlem club discover a new way to play jazz: As the war comes to an end and the recording ban is lifted, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and saxophonist Charlie Parker record the song "Ko Ko" based on the chords to "Cherokee." Thus, "bebop" takes Americans by surprise and propels jazz in a whole new direction. ~ Matt Collar, Rovi

Ken Burns' Jazz, Episode 9: The Adventure, 1956-1961
Episode nine of Ken Burns' series -- covering 1956 to 1960 -- deals with a period of immense popularity and transition for jazz music. The same year that Elvis Presley tops the pop charts, Duke Ellington records a live album at the Newport Jazz Festival that outsells all his others. Other aging artists' careers soon burn out as a result of drugs, as well as competition from young virtuosos such as Sonny Rollins and Art Blakey and his Jazz Messengers. Yet these progressive young musicians remain silent as Louis Armstrong -- whom they unfairly label an "Uncle Tom" -- condemns the government's failure to act against racism in Little Rock, AK. Still the leading visionary of jazz with his minimalist approach, Miles Davis continues to put together different groups throughout the late '50s. But as the '60s approach it is one of Davis' sidemen, saxophonist John Coltrane, who envisions the future of jazz with his provocative version of "My Favorite Things." ~ Matt Collar, Rovi

Ken Burns' Jazz, Episode 2: The Gift, 1917-1924
Episode two of Ken Burns's exhaustive series explores the haughtiness of the "Jazz Age" -- 1917 to 1924. During this time when jazz flourished, unparalleled prosperity across the country created an atmosphere ripe for flappers, gangsters, speakeasies, and all-around good times. Burns introduces viewers to the most important figure in jazz, Louis Armstrong. After surviving a fatherless childhood in the roughest part of New Orleans, Armstrong grew up to become the first true jazz soloist and influence the course of jazz for decades to come. Burns also moves the focus of his documentary from New Orleans to Chicago, where Armstrong joins his mentor King Oliver and the two artists influence a new generation of musicians, white and black alike. Viewers get to know the young Duke Ellington as he heads for Harlem, the brilliant arranger Fletcher Henderson, and the most popular bandleader of the day, Paul Whiteman, who created the first truly commercial version of jazz. ~ Matt Collar, Rovi

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