Not about the history of jazz
Tom Schmidt | San Francisco, CA | 05/11/2010
(1 out of 5 stars)
"Many reviews here already note that this documentary is really the Wynton Marsalis and Stanley Crouch show. Ken Burns essentially gave them the reins to write the content for this documentary since Burns knew (and knows) nothing about jazz.
Rather than repeat those points I concur with, I will simply add that this is a bad documentary that doesn't tell the history of jazz. It tells the history of what was going on in the country while jazz was being created. It more or less sticks to the pre-swing and swing eras, and really doesn't delve into the music. It delves into personalities and trivial anecdotes. Do we really learn what made Ellington a great pianist and a great composer? No. We just hear that "Duke became one of the greatest composers of the 20th century." Why? What exactly made him so great? What are some of his specific compositions that are so great and why? What was new about them? Burns doesn't know. He doesn't say. We hear instead about how the title "Take the A-Train" came about. Not about the music though.
Also annoying is the endless repetition. We keep hearing the same anecdotes about the same musicians over and over and over ("so and so would come into the club and the whole joint would just start jumpin'!!"). We must see the same photographs of Louis Armstrong a dozen times. Burns is not just ignorant about jazz, he's a lazy documentary filmmaker.
In the end, this documentary is entertainment for the masses, not for serious listeners, students, or historians of music. It's for history buffs who want to know about F. Scott Fitzgerald's America and the era of The Great Gatsby. If you want to learn about jazz, you'll be wasting your time. A lot of it.
By "The History of Jazz" by Ted Gioia if you want to learn jazz history."