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Jazz - A Film by Ken Burns
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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.
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 BartlettSee all Editorial Reviews
- 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
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Top Customer Reviews
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. In a specific DVD mode, viewers who click on the name of a song when it appears on the screen find that the film stops and a list of all the musicians who contributed to the piece appears, along with the recording studio, the year of production and other miscellaneous tidbits. I discovered that each song on each DVD is individually tracked, making it easy to jump from one to the other. Furthermore, the "extras" section includes three stunning full-length performances not included in the film (my favorite is Duke Ellington's "C Jam Blues") and a well-done 15-minute documentary on how the film was produced.
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