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Ken Burns "Jazz" Episode Guide
(airing on PBS Television - January 2001)

Episode One: "Gumbo" (Beginnings-1917)

Jazz is born in the unique musical and social cauldron of New Orleans at the turn of the 20th century, emerging from several forms of music, including ragtime, marching bands, work songs, spirituals, European classical music, funeral parade music and, above all, the blues. Musicians who advance early jazz in New Orleans include Creole pianist and composer Jelly Roll Morton, cornetist Buddy Bolden and clarinet prodigy Sidney Bechet. Composer W.C. Handy codifies the blues through his popular compositions. The Original Dixieland Jazz Band makes the first jazz recordings. Their enormous popularity spreads the sounds of jazz across the country and, eventually, the world. At the end of the episode, viewers meet an 11-year-old New Orleans boy, Louis Armstrong, who will emerge from the city's toughest streets to become jazz music's greatest star and transform American music.

Episode also features segments on Freddie Keppard, plus commentary from Wynton Marsalis, Branford Marsalis, Doc Cheatham, and others.


Episode Two: "The Gift" (1917-1924)

The second episode is set during the tumultuous era known as the 'Jazz Age,' when the rhythms and spirit of jazz music mirror the world that emerged in the wake of World War I. The program introduces two extraordinary individuals whose lives will be interwoven throughout the rest of the series: the brilliant bandleader and composer Duke Ellington and the virtuoso New Orleans-born cornetist Louis Armstrong, who single-handedly transforms jazz from ensemble music to a soloist's art. This episode follows black bandleader and WWI hero James Reese Europe and his Harlem regiment to the war in France and back home again. In the l920s, jazz enters American living rooms through radio and phonograph records. The migration of millions of African Americans from the South to the North helps create a receptive audience for the new music -- especially evident on the south side of Chicago. White musicians, entranced by the recordings and the music they hear in Chicago's night clubs, begin to make their mark on jazz.

Episode also features segments on Lester Bowie and Sidney Bechet.


Episode Three: "Our Language" (1924-1928)

Louis Armstrong arrives in New York from Chicago where, during a brief stay with the Fletcher Henderson band, he amazes his fellow musicians and teaches the city to swing. A blues craze, spearheaded by Bessie Smith, takes the nation by storm. Cornetist Bix Beiderbecke, the first great white jazz artist, eventually plays for bandleader Paul Whiteman, whose blending of classical and jazz traditions comes to epitomize jazz for many Americans. This episode also traces the childhood of Benny Goodman, whose musicianship catapults him out of the slums of Chicago; and Goodman's eventual rival, clarinetist Artie Shaw, who also escapes ghetto life though jazz. Clarinetist Sidney Bechet takes his fiery music to Europe, and singer Ethel Waters brings a new kind of artistry to American popular song. Jelly Roll Morton advances the art of jazz composition, and Duke Ellington begins his incomparable career as the pre-eminent composer in jazz history. The episode ends with Louis Armstrong's teaming with pianist Earl Hines in l928 to make a series of pivotal recordings that culminate in the masterpiece "West End Blues".

Others featured include Josephine Baker and Lil Hardin Armstrong.


Episode Four: "The True Welcome" (1929-1935)

Amid the hard times of the Depression, a new dance, the Lindy Hop, begins to catch on at the dance halls of New York. The reminiscences of two of Harlem's greatest dancers, Frankie Manning and Norma Miller, help frame this episode. Louis Armstrong begins to sing on stage; though his career suffers from a string of bad luck, his trumpet playing and singing continue to astonish listeners. Duke Ellington's band begins to appear in Hollywood films, and he provides audiences in America and abroad with an image of elegant sophistication. The privileged young writer and music producer John Hammond promotes jazz and social justice with equal zeal. Benny Goodman becomes a successful bandleader, Fats Waller becomes one of the most popular entertainers in the country and pianist Art Tatum brings a dazzling virtuosity to the music. As swing dancing catches on, a new kind of big band jazz begins to emerge.

Others featured include Chick Webb and Fletcher Henderson. Features comments from Jon Hendricks, Wynton Marsalis, Arvell Shaw, Artie Shaw, Jimmy Rowles, Matt Glaser, and others.


Episode Five: "Swing: Pure Pleasure" (1935-1937)

Big band jazz, "swing," becomes the most popular music in America. Clarinetist Benny Goodman, whose band creates a sensation on radio broadcasts and in live performances, becomes the first white bandleader to hire black musicians and presents the first integrated public performances of jazz. Billie Holiday's buoyant music and exquisite phrasing enable her to overcome a limited range as a singer. Louis Armstrong lands roles in Hollywood films, and Duke Ellington continues to compose distinctive music for the members of his band. Swing bands, headed by Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Lunceford, Glenn Miller and Goodman's rival, Artie Shaw, achieve enormous popularity. Some jazz fans, disturbed by the popularity of swing, look backwards and start a movement to embrace 'traditional' jazz. Drummer and bandleader Chick Webb's propulsive music inspires dancers at Harlem's integrated Savoy Ballroom. In the western "territories," a blues-soaked big band jazz style is set to further transform jazz.

Others featured include Gene Krupa, Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton. Features comments from Wynton Marsalis, Dave Brubeck, Harry "Sweets" Edison, Joya Sherrill, Milt Hinton, Jimmy Rowles, Stan Levey, and others.


Episode Six: "Swing: The Velocity of Celebration" (1937-1939)

As the Great Depression deepens, jazz thrives. The saxophone emerges as an iconic instrument of the music; the episode introduces two of its masters, Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young. Young migrates to Kansas City, where a vibrant music scene is prospering. Out of this ferment emerges pianist Count Basie, who forms a band that epitomizes the Kansas City sound. With the help of John Hammond, Basie takes his band to New York, where his remarkable rhythm section and legendary soloists refine and redefine swing. Billie Holiday records with Basie's tenor saxophone soloist Lester Young; their musical kinship creates one of the great partnerships in jazz. Women musicians, including pianist and arranger Mary Lou Williams, emerge on the jazz scene. Ella Fitzgerald emerges as a star, taking over Chick Webb's band and launching a long career. Benny Goodman holds the first-ever jazz concert at Carnegie Hall. Duke Ellington travels to Europe and then makes some of his greatest recordings. In 1938, Billie Holiday begins her engagement at the integrated nightclub, Cafe Society. Coleman Hawkins returns to the United States after many years in Europe.


Episode Seven: "Dedicated to Chaos" (1940-1945)

The infectious music of the swing bands sets the mood for soldiers going off to fight in World War II. Gifted trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, in after-hours jam sessions with other young rebels, including the drummer Kenny Clarke and pianist Thelonious Monk, take jazz in startling new directions with their complex music -- bebop. Their innovations, however, are largely unnoticed amidst the war effort. Armed Forces Radio broadcasts spread jazz across the globe, while big band leader Glenn Miller dies in a plane crash over the English Channel. In Europe, jazz is banned by the Nazis and embraced by their opponents as a symbol of freedom and democracy. European jazz innovators, including Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt, blend jazz with their own musical traditions. As racial conflict in America heats up, the center of jazz in New York moves from Harlem to 52nd Street. Duke Ellington rebuilds his band, begins his collaboration with arranger and composer Billy Strayhorn, records some of his most popular songs and pioneers serious long-form jazz compositions. Charlie Parker struggles with his own heroin addiction. Then, with Dizzy Gillespie, he records several bebop masterworks

Others featured include Ben Webster, Billie Holiday, Dave Brubeck and Louis Armstrong. Features comments from Jay McShann, Arvell Shaw, Stan Levey, Jimmy Rowles, Wynton Marsalis, Joya Sherrill, Jackie McLean, and others.


Episode Eight: "Risk" (1945-1955)

Jazz becomes the official symbol of American democracy abroad. At home, the music splinters into different camps: white and black, cool and hot, East and West, traditional and modern. Television supplants radio, but offers fewer opportunities for jazz to be heard. Most big bands are forced to dismantle. The rhythm and blues phenomenon further erodes the audience for jazz. Charlie Parker dies of pneumonia and cirrhosis of the liver at age 34; Dizzy Gillespie carries on the innovations of bebop as a teacher and leader, forms a big band and blends modern jazz with Latin rhythms. Inspired by the emergent civil rights movement, promoter Norman Granz holds racially integrated jazz concerts; Louis Armstrong challenges the color barrier by touring in the South with an integrated band. Viewers meet Bud Powell, Erroll Garner and Thelonious Monk, who finally attains recognition for his unique approach and sound. Some California-based musicians create a quieter sound that comes to be known as "cool" jazz; these include baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan and piano player Dave Brubeck, whose quartet becomes the most popular jazz group in America. A young trumpeter from East St. Louis, Miles Davis, makes a set of recordings with innovative composer Gil Evans and becomes the most influential musician of his generation.

Others featured include Frank Sinatra, Jack Teagarden and Louis Jordan. Features comments from Jon Hendricks, Stan Levey, Wynton Marsalis, Jackie McLean, Arvell Shaw, Branford Marsalis, and others.


Episode Nine: "The Adventure" (1955-1960)

As rhythm and blues and rock 'n' roll erode jazz' audience still further, the music nonetheless enjoys a time of tremendous creativity. Saxophonist Sonny Rollins makes his mark on the scene, Duke Ellington reemerges as a star after a triumphant performance at the Newport Jazz Festival and Miles Davis makes several now-legendary albums. Young trumpeter Clifford Brown achieves great artistry, but his life is cut short in a car accident. Vocalist Sarah Vaughan forever sets a standard for jazz singing. Amidst the school integration crisis in Little Rock, Arkansas, Louis Armstrong risks his career by speaking out forcefully against segregation. Drummer Art Blakey, pianist Horace Silver and other "hard bop" musicians play a soulful brand of jazz in an attempt to bring the music back to the black audience it has lost to R&B. In 1957, Billie Holiday reunites with Lester Young on a live television program, "The Sound of Jazz"; two years later, both Holiday and Young are dead. John Coltrane, after playing on Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue" album, forms his own quartet, scores a hit with his version of the show tune "My Favorite Things" and creates some of the most intense music in jazz history. The episode concludes with the arrival on the scene of the free-jazz pioneer, Ornette Coleman, whose music challenges all of the conventions of jazz, signals the arrival of the avant garde and provokes a debate about the definition of jazz that continues to this day.

Others seen include Elvis Presley, Gil Evans, Perry Como, Ray Charles and Sonny Rollins. Features comments from Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Clark Terry, Arvell Shaw, Jimmy Rowles, Joe Lovano, and others.


Episode Ten: "A Masterpiece by Midnight" (1961-Present)

In the 1960s, jazz becomes divided into "schools" -- Dixieland, swing, bop, hard bop, cool, modal, free, avant-garde. The question of what is jazz and what isn't rages, dividing audiences, dividing musicians, dividing generations. For many, the real question is whether jazz, the most American of art forms, will survive at all. Rock 'n' roll groups dominate record sales and radio, and many jazz musicians, like Dexter Gordon, are forced to leave America in search of work. Many artists use the music as a form of social protest: Max Roach composes the "Freedom Now Suite"; Charles Mingus makes his mark with overtly political recordings. John Coltrane records prolifically and appeals to broad audiences before his untimely death at age 40. Saxophonist Stan Getz helps boost a craze for 'bossa nova' music. Great singers celebrate the essential contribution of vocalists to the development of jazz. The avant-garde movement creates innovative music but appeals to an increasingly limited audience. By the late l960s, jazz is struggling to find its way. In the early l970s, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington pass away. Miles Davis, after forming his most innovative acoustic jazz group, leads a movement of jazz musicians who incorporate elements of rock and soul into their music in an attempt to appeal to a wider audience. "Fusion" wins listeners, but alienates some dedicated jazz fans. By the mid-80s, jazz begins to bounce back; it's heard in concert halls, on rap records, in film scores and in television commercials. Jazz musicians continue to practice, perform, record, disagree, improvise and jam. As it approaches its centennial, jazz is still alive -- and still changing.

Others seen include Archie Shepp, Art Ensemble of Chicago, Cassandra Wilson, Cecil Taylor, Dianne Reeves, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Nicholas Payton, ReBirth Brass Band, Regina Carter, Sly & The Family Stone and The Beatles. Features comments from Wynton Marsalis, Abbey Lincoln, Arvell Shaw, Jackie McLean, Lester Bowie, Branford Marsalis, Joshua Redman, Herbie Hancock, Matt Glaser, Joe Lovano, and others.


For more on Ken Burns "Jazz", see:


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