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Customer Review

on August 26, 2002
For anyone wishing to learn about the origins of jazz, it's a wonderful documentary, taking you on a whirlwind tour throughout jazz's history. Unfortunately, as with any historical survey, certain things get left out. First of all, the series focusses heavily on earlier jazz (20s through 40s), and pays much less attention to later decades. Second of all, even once the series has reached later decades, they continue to devote time to the stars of earlier jazz (Satchmo, et al) and how they are faring in later times. While I agree that this is important, I think more time could have been spent on any number of 60s and 70s artists rather than hearing more about Lady Day and the like.
Nonetheless, Burns manages to bring us a well-edited combination of live clips, interviews, and narration with still photographs. Anyone would have trouble addressing the issues I outlined above in only 10 discs.
However, I think the film REALLY suffers from one main problem:
The series is heavily biased by Wynton Marsalis and his famed mentor/jazz critic, Stanley Crouch. This is not to say that these two very influential men have any sort of malicious agenda, but rather that Burns relies far too heavily on their vision of jazz.
Because of this subtle bias, many great white musicians are either ignored or glossed over. As a minority musician myself, I am by no means trying to champion white jazz, black jazz, or any other sort of silly and racist categorization. What I do think, however, is that CRUCIALLY influential artists like Stan Getz and Bill Evans are glaring omissions from the series. Getz (along with Charlie Byrd and a few others) was almost single-handedly responsible for bringing bossa nova into the jazz fold, and remains one of the most distinct saxophonists in jazz history. Similarly, the only reference in the series to Bill Evans is a passing one to his historic participation on Miles' seminal album "Kind of Blue". Even there, Evans' contribution is reduced to an example of Miles' inclusion of a white pianist. Completely lost is the European/Classical influence that Evans helped bring to jazz, along with his numerous other contributions.
Even with these sorts of glaring omissions, Burns deserves much credit for the admirable scope and power of his documentary. Rent it and watch it, but don't follow it as a definitive guide to jazz. Please don't buy the ridiculous CD set that goes along with it. Your money is better spent buying a few (or a lot of!)seminal albums from each era.
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