Ken Burns' "Jazz" (2001)

Discussion in 'Visual Arts' started by Panther, Jul 2, 2019.

  1. Panther

    Panther Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Tokyo, Japan
    I first watched Ken Burns' Jazz (2001) series back in about 2004 and enjoyed it. But I wanted to go back to it, so I'm watching it again these days. It holds up well.

    I was just wondering what people thought of it. The narration is really good (I mean, the voice of Keith David). The eras are well represented, and I like that although the film (rightly) focuses on the artistic high-points in the emergence of the music, it also doesn't ignore the commercial end of it and pays tribute to the "pop" stars of jazz.

    Wynton Marsalis can be a little overbearing at times with his studied erudition and his blues-based-everything view of jazz, but he is a necessary commentator. He gets a lot of airtime.

  2. Raylinds

    Raylinds Resident Lake Surfer

    I loved it and as soon as I saw your thread title I was thinking that it was about time that I re-watched it. It's been so long since I've seen it that I can't give detailed commentary- maybe after I watch it again. I do recall that I would have preferred a little more coverage of be-bop and hard bop. While I knew that Louis Armstrong was an important figure in jazz, I never knew just how important until I saw this.
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  3. It was my introduction to Jazz generally. Think I was watching it the first time around 2002. Since then I also collect Jazz albums.
    The documentary series is great IMO. My favorite episodes (and eras) are the ones between post-WWII and mid-60s.
    The last episode is a bit bizarre, pretty condensed. Wish there were more episodes instead, to show more details of the years beyond 1965.
  4. Not just that, he also was the co-producer of that series.^^ He's great but I prefer his brother Branford.
  5. Erik Tracy

    Erik Tracy Meet me at the Green Dragon for an ale

    San Diego, CA, USA
  6. Bobby Buckshot

    Bobby Buckshot Heavy on the grease please

    Southeastern US
    That's a really good thread btw.

    I watched several eps of this series but not all and it's hard for me to make it through a single one in a sitting. I just find it stilted & boring for the most part. Sucks the air right out of the music, which I find exciting & alive no matter the era.
    somnar likes this.
  7. ATR

    ATR Senior Member

    Ken Burns is a hack whose heart is in the right place. Problem is he doesn't reveal or illuminate anything particularly interesting in any of his movies and visually they have the all the visual quality and originality of a microsoft business presentation. As for Jazz in particular, he was additionally hamstrung by his admitted general ignorance of the subject before making the movie and his reliance on Stanley Crouch and Wynton Marsalis which resulted in a skewed vision. Burns has an obvious interest in race relations in America and although he doesn't demonstrate much depth or understanding of them that hasn't stopped him from taking on the subject in several different films, including Jazz. Add to that the fact that the movie is now pretty dated, having been made about 18 years ago. It only covered up to about 1950 then. Lincoln Center, BTW, which has sponsored Crouch and Marsalis and catches a lot of flak for it, actually has a reasonably wide angle view on the subject.
  8. Spencer R

    Spencer R Forum Resident

    Oxford, MS
    When I got into jazz in the 90s, the general attitude among fans I knew was that the music began with Miles and Coltrane, so I found Burns’ emphasis on the music’s earlier history to be interesting and educational.
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  9. ATR

    ATR Senior Member

    I'm glad you were interested in finding our more about the original American musical art form. Hopefully you went farther than Ken Burns did. It's a subject that, in his defense, really can't be covered well at even the length he did. That you don't find his documentaries visually uninteresting and not much more than a power point presentation is an opinion you're entitled to, of course, as I am to mine. The fact that he knew very little about the subject, even as he made the movie, is a self admitted fact. The fact that I tend to dismiss documentaries of this 'talking heads and slide show' variety is my own self admission. Among documentaries I would recommend about jazz are A Great Day In Harlem, Imagine The Sound, Thelonious Monk: Straight No Chaser, Last Of The Kansas City Blue Devils, and Sonny Rollins G-Man.
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  10. PonceDeLeroy

    PonceDeLeroy Forum Resident

    I have seen A Great Day in Harlem and Last of the Kansas City Blue Devils and concur! I should seek out the others you mentioned.
  11. John B Good

    John B Good Forum Hall Of Fame

    NS, Canada
    I've owned it for several years, and still haven't watched it! And I'm interested in the one on Country music :(
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  12. Spencer R

    Spencer R Forum Resident

    Oxford, MS
    I never said anything about whether I found his documentaries visually interesting, although I certainly found the footage of Louis Armstrong performing Dinah in the late 20s/early 30s, as well as the dozens of other performances from early titans of jazz, to be fascinating, particularly in that pre-YouTube era where old footage like that wasn’t a click away on your phone.
  13. GregM

    GregM Ready to cross that fine line

    Daddyland, CA
    I don't think any fan would say that the music began with Miles and Trane, but that their personal journey in the music may have begun there.

    I'm not a fan of Ken Burns, but a tremendous fan of jazz. Thus, the documentary was doomed to be a let-down for me. The average jazz musician can communicate more in a bar of music than Burns did in the entire production. And it's nauseating that he profited more than the vast majority of them. My .02.
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  14. theoxrox

    theoxrox Forum Resident

    central Wisconsin
    I've watched three Burns series, on Jazz, Baseball, and Vietnam. IMO his main consideration is the color of the performer. His series seem to reflect that all African-American baseball players and musicians are innately superior to white performers, or at least that's how they've seemed to me. I would have to disagree with this presumption.

    That said, I was very pleasantly surprised with his relative even-handedness on the Vietnam series......

    This is just my opinion, and I have no desire to offend SH Forum members who may be African-American.
    GregM likes this.
  15. hbbfam

    hbbfam Forum Resident

    This seems to have evolved into a Ken Burns thread.

    I found The Civil War and Baseball to be excellent. I have watched them many times (particularly Baseball). I am a hsitorian and these two subjects are my personal favorites. So I was not looking for a history lesson. But seeing Walter Johnson's side arm delivery, Cookie Lavagetto breaking up Bill Bevens WS no-hitter, Grover pitching to Tony Lazarri (not just the still of him having just struck out). That was worth the price of admission. As was listening to Shelby Foote tell me about events I already knew, but so colorfully. So Jazz was more of the same. Seeing footage of the pioneers was fun. I was mostly disappointed that the history lesson ended in the 50s. Still I watch that one too from time to time. BTW his Vietnam lasted almost as long as the war.
  16. ruben lopez

    ruben lopez Forum Resident

    Barcelona Spain
    The doc is good but....biased.

    LONG LIVE FREE JAZZ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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  17. GreggF

    GreggF Forum Resident

    New Jersey
    Ken Burns has said many times that you can't begin to understand American history without focusing on race. I never got the impression he pushed black superiority on any topic. Rather, he acknowledges the unsung black contributions to the subjects he's made films on. Jazz, the one true purely American art form and the basis for almost all of the popular music we hear up to today, was invented by black slaves in America. I've never observed any claims by Burns of the innate superiority of any demographic.
  18. Panther

    Panther Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Tokyo, Japan
    Yeah, the criticisms of Burns on this thread seem unwarranted. So, other jazz documentaries are better? I don't doubt that. But how many of them attempt what Burns did: a long-range, multi-edition, overview of the entire history of the music? I know of no other docs that have done this. So, others don't merit comparison.

    I do agree that Marsalis got a little too much influence on the film. Stanley Crouch, less so. But in a way, that is refreshing because neither of them is enamored of the post-bop era of jazz, and they both hate fusion. I find this good, in the rock culture for some reason thinks Miles Davis encompasses jazz.

    I've yet to read a valid criticism on this thread. (I will read the 29-page one later.)
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  19. guidedbyvoices

    guidedbyvoices Diver Dan

    Alpine, TX
    I loved it in 2004, and the series and all the cds were my introduction to jazz. At the time, I really got into Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker was about as far as I really liked back then. I tried Kind of Blue, Coltrane's Ballads and Coltrane/Hartman and didn't dig them much. My wife got me the dvd's and the cd box back then, which wasn't a cheap gift!

    A few years ago after getting back into vinyl, I really fell for Miles, Trane up to Love Supreme, Sonny Rollins, and Blue Note big time. I rewatched Jazz about a year ago, and felt Blue Note kind of got the shaft, Sonny Rollins was mostly mentioned just in one episode. I know it's hard to cram the entire history of jazz in a series, and that Ken Burns crafts his docs around the American Experience, so he picks some players to tell these stories through.

    That said, to me the series did it's job - it hooked me into a genre of music I'd ignored simply because there was so much to dig into. It's like trying to get into Rock when all you know is Revolution and Jailhouse Rock.
    Spencer R likes this.
  20. chacha

    chacha Forum Resident

    mill valley CA USA
    I’ve always wanted to see this. Anyone happen to know if it’s currently on any of the streaming platforms or only DVD?
  21. trd

    trd Forum Resident

    That civil war series has not aged well at all. Shelby Foote and his lost cause narrative are cringe inducing. Good overview of the issues here,

    Why We Need a New Civil War Documentary | History | Smithsonian
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  22. trd

    trd Forum Resident

    Jazz is on Prime. I watched it all the way through again recently and it’s well done and entertaining. I think the criticisms about Wynton and Crouch are fair and I’d love to see someone take a run at the free / modern jazz content that burns brushed last. But for the origins of the music through hard bop and Coltrane I think it’s excellent
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  23. MRamble

    MRamble Forum Resident

    It's a perfect introduction for someone who absolutely knows zero about jazz which is exactly who I was when I watched it several years ago. It totally hit the spot and planted enough seeds for me to seek out all the artists in the documentary plus many many more that weren't mentioned that I discovered on my own.
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  24. This is pretty much my take as well. I wasn't a total neophyte, but still found it an entertaining and informative broad survey of the genre whose problems don't really make themselves felt until the last couple of episodes.
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  25. Lonson

    Lonson Just a Lucky So-and-so

    I enjoy this series. So much within it to love!
    trd likes this.

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