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Jazz - A Film by Ken Burns

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Whether it's hot or cool, bebop or blues, big band or a lone guy on a mournful sax, jazz is the all-American musical idiom. In this long-awaited series, documentarian Ken Burns traces the 100-year history of a rich, varied art form and its most influential composers and performers. 6 years in the making, 2,400 still photos, 2,000 film clips, 75 interviews, 500 pieces of recorded music-the numbers behind this sweeping effort are staggering. Equally impressive is the sharp commentary, especially the outspoken narrative of Wynton Marsalis, trumpeter and Lincoln Center's artistic director of jazz. About 19 hours on 10 DVDs.

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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

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Special Features

  • Documentary "Making of Jazz" (16 minutes)
  • Playlist information for over 500 songs
  • Three full-length performances not seen in the film: Louis Armstrong's "I Cover the Waterfront" (1933), Duke Ellington's "C Jam Blues" (1942), and Miles Davis's "New Rhumba" (1959)
  • Music and photo credits

Product Details

  • Actors: Keith David, Charles J. Correll, Freeman F. Gosden, Edward R. Murrow, Richard Nixon
  • Format: Box set, Black & White, Closed-captioned, Color, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo)
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 10
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Pbs Home Video
  • DVD Release Date: January 2, 2001
  • Run Time: 1140 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (597 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00004XQOU
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #67,615 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Jazz - A Film by Ken Burns" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

415 of 448 people found the following review helpful By Darin Brown on February 22, 2001
Format: DVD
I think I understand the viewpoints of BOTH the harsh critics and the fanatical supporters of this series. Both have valid points. Both "sides" sometimes fail to understand the points of the other "side" (or fail to even try). Here, I'll try to explain why I think both viewpoints are legitimate.
Briefly, what are the good vs. bad qualities of this series?
GOOD: Music is often blended extremely well with visual material. There is much great music and great film footage. Anyone new to jazz will be exposed to these. Even those not so new to jazz will find interesting sounds and sights. The commentary by Gary Giddons throughout the series is unusually helpful, insightful and moderate, in contrast to some other commentators (see BAD below). The film is good at telling stories (although many of these blur into legend and myth, see below). This film will be entertaining to the general public; it will expose jazz to many people who would never have gotten into it otherwise. It will widen jazz's audience, and in this sense, it will be good for jazz. I don't know how many people I've seen posting on the internet recently who've said that because of this series, they've decided to buy more jazz CDs, go to some jazz concerts, and buy books on the history of jazz and various musicians. So many people are at least being pointed in the direction of exploring jazz on their own, this in itself is a good thing, which will eventually be more significant than the serious flaws in the series (despite that critics of the series feel otherwise at the moment).
BAD: Very often historically inaccurate, blurring the line between history, legend, myth, and cliche. These sins are too numerous to list. See Francis Davis's recent excellent review in the Atlantic online.
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112 of 119 people found the following review helpful By Eric J. Lyman on January 31, 2004
Format: DVD
The old saying goes that one should never talk about religion or politics in polite company. After reading several reviews about this series on this page, I wonder if jazz should be added to that list.
In terms of background in the jazz genre, I fall somewhere between the wide-eyed jazz neophyte critics say this series was aimed at and the graying veteran who spends two or three nights a week listening to live fusion jazz or who rages at creator Ken Burns' exclusion of an obscure might-be bepop avatar.
And from that vantage point, I think Jazz is pretty darn good.
Of course I was puzzled by some of the choices Mr. Burns made in producing this film, the exclusion of some artists and derivative movements and the time spent on others. I raised my eyebrows at the heavy reliance on Wynton Marsalis' views and commentary, the long discussions about race, the glossing over of the modern era.
My point is not to defend these aspects but only to say that it is easy to find fault in something of this scope. Producing this series was a mammoth undertaking: it is 19 hours of artfully done film, culled from thousands of hours of interviews, footage, and music. I cannot imagine anything of this scale being produced without also producing a legion of critics, and Jazz certainly proves that point. But I also fail to come up with any other single source where the viewer can see, hear, and learn so much about the greatest American art form.
There is more to recommend it: this DVD collection includes a host of interactive features that make further learning and listening easy.
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172 of 200 people found the following review helpful By J. Lund on January 7, 2001
Format: DVD
After several days of marathon video viewing, I'm happy (and relieved) that, despite some inevitable imperfections, JAZZ: A FILM BY KEN BURNS is an amazingly broad and detailed exam of the music's history. Despite having read many excellent jazz-related books, I think that video rather than the printed word is the preferred medium to get initial or even remedial exposure to the music, because here you have as the centerpiece the actual audio and video of the art and artists. If you read a book about jazz, you don't have that essential evidence of the music itself, but merely descriptions of it.
Why buy the DVD? There is a minor amount of extra footage. More significantly, the program can be altered so that whenever a piece of music appears, one can display the discographical info. As such, one never has to wonder what they are listening to. Furthermore, the sharpness of the DVD video picture and clearness of the audio is a selling point, particularly when you're looking at vintage photos, videos, and audio that are often not in optimal condition. Plus, with the DVD you can watch the series at your own pace.
I might have thought beforehand that a series which takes six hours just to get to Armstrong/Hines' 1928 landmark recording WEST END BLUES might be a little too obsessive. Yet I remained riveted to the television screen as jazz's history unfolded, from Buddy Bolden to Cassandra Wilson. Jazz has a VERY compelling history on many levels--emotionally for one given the periodic mist in my eyes. I would have preferred a bit less commentary over the clips of jazz's great artists, but occasionally Burns does let the music speak for itself. I was impressed that we get to know a lot of the primary artists in a fair amount of detail.
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Most striking omissions
Ray Charles [brief picture seen on wall in the end credits], Dinah Washington, Count Basie, Oscar Brown Jr, Max Roach, Quincy Jones etc etc the list goes on and on in terms of important Jazz artists who were missing.

Whole documentary is a pitiful waste of time & money. And best avoided [or... Read More
May 15, 2015 by Mr. P |  See all 3 posts
does this set include a music only disc, too?
No this is only a 10 DVD (Video) set. You might still find the soundtrack on CD if you are lucky (several discs long).
Sep 18, 2011 by Eric Pregosin |  See all 2 posts
Subtitles and closed caption
Asked and answered several times in the last decade. English captions only, no subbies.
Dec 27, 2010 by Eric Pregosin |  See all 2 posts
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