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Jazz: A Film by Ken Burns [VHS] (2001)

Ken Burns  |  NR |  VHS Tape
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (419 customer reviews)

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Product Details

  • Directors: Ken Burns
  • Writers: Geoffrey C. Ward
  • Producers: Ken Burns
  • Format: Box set, Black & White, Closed-captioned, Color, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Number of tapes: 10
  • Studio: PBS Home Video
  • VHS Release Date: January 2, 2001
  • Run Time: 999 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (419 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000050HEQ
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #295,287 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Editorial Reviews

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 cassettes.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
348 of 373 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The good, the bad, and the ugly February 22, 2001
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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84 of 89 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Jazzmataz January 31, 2004
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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159 of 186 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An impressive, in-depth course on jazz history! January 7, 2001
By J. Lund
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 Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Good subject but bogs down in introspection
Done well in the Ken Burns style but I grew weary hearing how "absolutely incredible" each person or innovation was. Read more
Published 3 days ago by Barry Jacobs
3.0 out of 5 stars declaring jazz fundamentally dead apart from the work of a handful of...
The series as a whole was decent. The last episode covering the 1960s to the present fell apart after reaching the 1970s. Read more
Published 4 days ago by R Robayna
5.0 out of 5 stars Great history!
Great history!
Published 4 days ago by Daniel J. Hanrahan
2.0 out of 5 stars I enjoyed the first three programs of Jazz
I am an 82 year old jazz lover and 30 Navy man. I was raised in a jazz loving home and during my 30 year Navy career I was stationed in several cities classified as jazz hot... Read more
Published 6 days ago by Francis King
3.0 out of 5 stars A bit too focused
After the first episode, it appears that all of Jazz appears (to Ken Burns) to revolve around Louis Armstrong. Not that he wasn't great...he was. Read more
Published 7 days ago by H. Malette Poole
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great music and very educational. I have become a fan of jazz since watching this series.
Published 9 days ago by Christian M Merot
5.0 out of 5 stars Great series. A documentary not only of the history ...
Great series. A documentary not only of the history of Jazz, but also of the history of America.
A wonderful introduction to this art .
Published 11 days ago by Larry Lewis
5.0 out of 5 stars Jazz Lover's Present
Excellent present for a jazz lover
Published 12 days ago by J. Parks Hammond
5.0 out of 5 stars another Ken Burns triumph
the whole series is absolutely terrific. It has us listening to music in a whole new way. I thought I knew a lot about jazz but this series opened my eyes as well as my ears.
Published 16 days ago by James K. Lee
5.0 out of 5 stars Jazz is a masterpiece
Every subject of an art form should have a documentary of such extensive research and attention to great detail such as this review..
Published 18 days ago by Steven Joseph Hirai
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Most striking omissions
Very well said. I think it is absolutely outrageous that Burns chose to omit one of the greatest jazz pianists this world has ever seen and that would be The Magician, a/k/a Erroll Garner.
Apr 2, 2013 by Erroll |  See all 2 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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