StLJN Saturday Video Showcase: Ken Burns' Jazz


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This week, celebrate the nation's birthday with a screening of Jazz, the ten-part history of the music directed by famed documentary filmmaker Ken Burns and originally aired on PBS back in 2001.

Although the series was acclaimed by some as the most comprehensive filmed treatment of jazz history to date, many fans and critics also found plenty to criticize. Many of the negative comments focused on the series' heavy emphasis on older styles, the short shrift given to developments after 1960 - essentially all crammed into the final episode - and the overuse of certain interview subjects as experts, particularly Wynton Marsalis, whose disdain for free jazz, fusion, and other nontraditional styles already was well-known by the time the series was made.

The Wikipedia page for Jazz summarizes a few of the opinions, both pro and con, and you can read a more detailed critique of the series in the article “How Ken Burns Murdered Jazz," by Jeffrey St. Clair, excerpted from his book Serpents in the Garden and published in the magazine Counterpunch.

Though it certainly has a considerable number of flaws and omissions, yr. humble editor believes Jazz the series still is worth watching, as there's a lot of interesting material about the first 50 years of jazz and many of the most important musicians who made that history. Just keep in mind that, hyperbole and authoritative trappings notwithstanding, this is just one person's view of the subject. Perhaps another filmmaker eventually will take up the challenge to do a better job of telling the story of jazz in the 1960s and beyond.

In the meantime, the first episode, “Gumbo," is embedded up above, and after the jump, you can see the other nine, which are titled (in order) “The Gift," “Our Language," “The True Welcome," “Swing: Pure Pleasure," “Swing: The Velocity of Pleasure" (in three parts), “Dedicated to Chaos" (in two parts, and unfortunately missing its middle section), “Risk" (in three parts), “The Adventure" (in two parts), and “A Masterpiece By Midnight."

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This story appears courtesy of St. Louis Jazz Notes by Dean Minderman.
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