"Jazz" Documentary

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  • WHAT "JAZZ" GOT RIGHT: The critics have made it abundantly clear where they think Ken Burns’ "Jazz" series got it wrong: "’Jazz’ was penny-ante sociology. It rolled over for Wynton Marsalis. It bought into the Albert Murray-Stanley Crouch party line. It deified Louis Armstrong. It presented legends as historical fact. It didn't cover contemporary jazz. It misrepresented Duke Ellington's compositional process. It shorted Latin jazz. It was anti-Semitic. And so on." But what about all the things it got right? Salon 2/07/01
  • A SPOOF ON "JAZZ":"When people listened to Skunkbucket LeFunke, what they heard was, ‘Do do dee bwap da dee dee de da da doop doop dap.’ And they knew even then how profound that was." Salon 2/07/01
  • WHO CARES ABOUT JAZZ? "The only people who really care about Ken Burns' "Jazz" may be die-hard aficionados - whose numbers, as is well known, are lamentably small - and others keenly attuned to the subtlest nuances of race relations in the United States. The rest of the country - I'd guess something on the order of 275,million souls - seems to have been blissfully unaware of the series; given the distortions, omissions and fabrications with which it was riddled, doubtless that is for the best." Washington Post 02/05/01
  • WRAPPING UP "JAZZ": As Ken Burns's unavoidable and controversial documentary draws to a close on PBS, the jazz world takes stock, and considers the future. One critic's view: "We've just been through 15 years of neo-traditionalism, overlapped by three or four more years of Swing revivalism, both phenomena driven by commerce rather than creativity to no particular aesthetic gain. Do we really need to repeat that exercise?" Globe & Mail (Toronto) 02/05/01
  • BURNS BAN: "It's said that more Americans get their history from Ken Burns than from any other source, and Burns does jazz such a great service by introducing it to tens of millions of them that specific complaints against him don't carry much weight. But jazz the form is reduced to an endless string of incidents and accolades, people and platitudes, while Jazz the film manages to explain what the music means without explaining what it is, or how to listen to it." Feed 01/31/01
  • BIG MONEY IN JAZZ: "Sales of videotapes of Burns' PBS documentaries, companion books and CDs have pulled more than $600 million in retail revenue. Burns' cachet as documentary filmmaker extraordinaire could eventually make 'Jazz' one of the biggest revenue generators of his 25-year career. Sales of related merchandise - books, CDs, DVDs and videos - surpassed $15 million halfway through Jazz' 10-episode airing." USA Today 02/01/01
  • PILING ON "JAZZ": It's not just Ken Burns and his admittedly limited documentary that annoys contemporary jazz musicians. Numerous veterans of the jazz scene decry the influence of the "Lincoln Center mob," and specifically the traditionalist trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, for trying to turn jazz into something akin to classical music: rigid, uncreative, and dominated by the past. Boston Herald, 02/01/01
  • NEW JAZZ: Ken Burns’ "Jazz" series has been widely criticized for paying scant attention to music after 1950. Herewith a list of some contemporary jazz greats who also deserve a listen. Slate 01/30/01
  • WHAT CLAIMS FOR "JAZZ"? Unquestionably Ken Burns' "Jazz" documentary is a culturally important event. But "there is no need for exaggeration such as Burns's claim that jazz is 'the only art form created by Americans.' (Apart from the issue of whether jazz is a form or a style like baroque or twelve-tone music, Americans also created tap dance, country-and- western music, Abstract Expressionism, the comic strip, and more.)" New York Review of Books 02/08/01
  • EVISCERATING "JAZZ": Leon Wieseltier doesn't have much good to say about "Jazz" or the reaction to the Ken Burns documentary. "Burns suffocates the jazz tradition in his superlatives. He deadens everything with his wonder. He has come to be ravished. A helpless hero-worshiper, his success threatens to make hero worship into a respectable historical standpoint. It is easy to see why Burns flourishes in this culture of worthless admiration. He is really just a fan: Bob Costas with an NEA grant." The New Republic 01/15/01
  • THE FUTURE OF JAZZ? All the talk of the history of jazz in the past few weeks leaves out the question of the future. "We live in a time when the idea of a single 'vanguard' - one pure, radical, cutting-edge movement that simultaneously incorporates, transcends and destroys the past -- has been rightly discredited. There are hundreds of different creators out there, all pursuing their own paths, a number of which may turn out to have lasting merit." Washington Post 01/14/01
  • THE FUSS ABOUT "JAZZ": "The ironic flip side to the notion that jazz is 'America's indigenous music' is the fact that most Americans don't listen to it. All of which has made Burns downright evangelical. His documentary is meant as a curative of sorts. But it also points to curious truths about the relationship between jazz and contemporary American culture, between the music as it's heard today and its underlying, timeless ideals." Village Voice 01/09/01
  • THE MARKETING OF "JAZZ": "You wonder if jazz will forever be capitalized or quote-marked or both and prefaced by 'Ken Burns' from now on. Burns calls Wynton Marsalis 'the star of this film' and with 'sole corporate underwriter' General Motors, they appear to be hijacking the history of the art form." Culture Kiosque 01/08/01

  • A FIXED IDEA OF JAZZ: Ken Burns "Jazz" documentary debuts Monday night. "The film will not change what jazz has become, not even a bit. But by the force of its marketing campaign (backed by General Motors), and also by the force of its storytelling and handling of images, 'Jazz' will fix in the minds of millions of Americans a particular set of notions when the word jazz is uttered. New York Times 01/07/01 (one-time registration required for access)
  • AND THE EXPERTS SAY: "Is the Burns series a fair representation of jazz? The question was put to musicians and others in the jazz world, who were provided with tapes of the series." New York Times 01/07/01 (one-time registration required for access)
  • BEAT TREAT: "Burns makes no apologies for any gaps or omissions. Nor should he. His intent was never to create the definitive visual history of jazz, nor could such be done in 190 hours, much less 19." The Globe & Mail 01/06/01
  • AGENT FOR CHANGE: "The great, sprawling behemoth of a documentary focuses on the central role jazz has played as a life-force counteracting racism and separatism in America. Jazz, in fact, has brought together more blacks and whites into cooperative, amicable, even loving situations than practically any other social force in America." Hartford Courant 01/07/01
  • MISSING THE BEAT: " 'Jazz,' a 19-hour film that feels about twice that long, lumbers, laboriously, from one leaden biographical portrait to the next, from one creaky cliche to a thousand more yet to come. Its chesty-voiced narrator doesn't so much trace the evolution of jazz as issue ironclad pronouncements about it." Chicago Tribune 01/07/01
  • AND WHERE'S THE HEAT? "More than its length, "Jazz" is, like those solos that reveled in their freedom from melody and chord progression and the like, at least a touch dissonant, jumping jerkily from segment to segment. There is beautiful music everywhere, but the feeling is of disjointed, mostly biographical stories assembled in sequence rather than a narrative whole." Chicago Tribune 01/07/01
  • A BIG FAN: " 'Jazz', is one of those rare, stunning TV offerings that pull you like Dickens into a superb, spiraling tale that lights up your mind - indeed, your whole body - and drops you back down on the couch at the end a more well-rounded, aware person." San Francisco Chronicle 01/07/01
  • STATUS QUO: "And indeed, the Burns project, for all its many virtues, does perpetuate the notion of jazz as orthodoxy, as tradition not to be tampered with lightly." Washington Post 01/07/01
  • WHO'S KILLED JAZZ? Jazz critics have been lining up to take pot shots at Ken Burns new "Jazz" documentary - and that's before it's even been shown on PBS. Burns himself blames jazz critics for ruining jazz. "Are you familiar with the American comic strip Peanuts? And the character Pig Pen who trails around a cloud of dust with him wherever he goes? The jazz community has done that to jazz, making it very off-putting for the rest of us who think you need some advanced degree or to be a member of this cabalistic jazzerati to understand it." National Post (Canada) 01/01/02

  • A HISTORY OF JAZZ? Ken Burns' new 20-hour documentary on jazz gives a distorted view. "For example, the last forty years, i.e. forty percent, of jazz history is crammed into one two hour segment. Therefore, the series, while it may contain some illuminating and/or entertaining portions, is unbalanced and cannot be taken too seriously, as it emphasizes material most familiar to most viewers and does not expose them to today's music." Public Arts 12/18/00

  • ALL THAT JAZZ: "At least 50 books about jazz were published in the last few months or are scheduled to arrive in bookstores in the next several months." Why now? New York Times 12/07/00 (one-time registration required for access)

  • TOO CLOSE TO HOME: It's another month-and-a-half before Ken Burns' new 19-hour documentary on jazz is scheduled to be broadcast. But already the critics are lining up to take shots. Burns says he's not fazed: "I'm prepared for the criticism, I care about it...but I didn't make this film for the jazzerati." Chicago Tribune 11/26/00

  • SUBJECTS THAT MATTER: Filmmaker Ken Burns' ten-part jazz series is to be aired beginning in January. But he's already hearing from critics. "When ''The Civil War' aired, several months passed before a few historians published objections to the series; with 'Baseball,' it took several weeks before some sportswriters weighed in with objections over what they thought were grievous omissions. Two years before I finished `Jazz,' I was getting letters from jazz critics telling me where I went wrong." Boston Globe (Baltimore Sun) 11/24/00





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