Jazz documentary

Jazz – a documentary by Ken Burns

Jazz – a documentary by Ken Burns

Jazz,” a television documentary series from 2001, was helmed by Ken Burns. This Emmy-nominated series, aired on PBS, provided an in-depth chronicle of jazz’s history, focusing on groundbreaking composers, musicians, and its intertwined connection with American history.

Central roles were played by swing virtuosos Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. The series also shed light on the significant contributions made by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie to bebop, as well as the impact of Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, and John Coltrane on free and cool jazz. Spanning from 1917 to 2001, this 10-episode series predominantly focused on music created prior to 1961. Florentine Films produced the series in collaboration with the BBC and WETA-TV, Washington.

To provide an overview, this documentary explored the evolution of jazz music in America, starting from its inception in the early 20th century up till the contemporary era. Keith David lent his voice for narration while also featuring interviews with modern musicians and critics. Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis (who also served as the artistic director and co-producer of “Jazz”) and critics like Gary Giddins shared their insights and perspectives.

Jazz - A Film by Ken Burns
Set of 10 DVDs sold @ Amazon.com (https://amzn.to/4aL4jHQ)

The Jazz DVDs provides a unique feature known as “music information”. This mode displays the name of the track when it plays during the movie. By pressing the Title button, viewers are directed to a separate screen that details the composer of the song, the musicians involved (including all band members, not just the main artist), the year it was recorded, and album and recording company details where relevant (and no, not all credits point to series’ own CDs). Another press of the Title button returns you back to the film. If you choose to turn off the music information mode, the song titles won’t show up, but you can still access song credits using the Title button. Despite each DVD’s scene-selection menu only listing 10 subchapters, every song is individually tracked (50 to 80 tracks per DVD).

The DVD set also comes with bonus material featuring three performances that were not part of the film: a 1933 performance of Louis Armstrong’s “I Cover the Waterfront”, Duke Ellington’s 1942 rendition of “C Jam Blues”, and Miles Davis’s 1959 delivery of “New Rhumba”. Additionally, a 16-minute documentary titled “Making of Jazz” is included that delves into how the film was produced. Ken Burns and producer Lynn Novick (both confessing their lack of musical training) discuss their method of research.

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