"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?
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."
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."
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
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
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
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
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.
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
"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
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
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
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
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)
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)
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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