Jazz - A Film By Ken Burns

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Jazz -A Ken Burns' epic 17-hour history of Jazz ,which dwells at length on early jazz, particularly on its origins in New Orleans, and there's a good deal of absorbing history here. On the other hand, in suggesting that the important work of jazz was done by 1975, Burns gives us cause to question how much of his earlier research is awry too. There isn't much here to reflect the brimming vitality of post-1960s jazz, and many listeners and musicians have been enraged by Burns' neglect of such pivotal figures as Joe Zawinul, Keith Jarrett, Jan Garbarek, Pat Metheny and Michael Brecker--all players whose work responds vigorously to the question that Burns thinks nobody can answer: "Where are the modern equivalents of Armstrong, Ellington, Parker and Coltrane?"


Armstrong and Ellington are the touchstones of Burns' film, providing the narrative thread around which the stories of other major figures turn, among them Bechet, Basie, Goodman, Parker, Miles Davis and Coltrane. Burns also finds populist mileage in the politicisation of jazz, making dramatic capital out of racial divides that most jazz players, black and white, have ignored. The fact is that almost all jazz players, regardless of race, have felt like outsiders. Despite such distractions, Jazz is the longest jazz documentary yet produced, and it's rich in musical examples and classic, rare and unseen footage. Even when working with simple stills, Burns uses seductive camera work and Keith David's epigrammatic narration to maximum effect. There's plenty to enjoy here, but viewers should be aware, as Joshua Redman points out in Musicians' Views in our Ken Burns' Jazz shop, that Burns' film is an often compelling perspective on jazz, not a definitive study.

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