Revenge of the Return of the Son of Ken Burns' "Jazz"
I know I am not alone in my feeling that Burnsie (I think I know him well enough to call him Burnsie. Between Baseball and Jazz , I've spent more time with him than I did in college, which explains a lot) may have slightly exaggerated the stature of a few musicians. As supremely gifted as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington were, and as much as they elevated the music, I have to remain somewhat doubtful that they also used their super powers to fight crime. Although I do not know for certain the secret identities of real-life superheroes The Atomic Lip and Duke Danger from that era, I felt it was rash of Burnsie to conclude that they were Armstrong and Ellington based solely on the fact that you never saw them together in the same place at the same time.
It is also a major point of contention among jazz fans (which are a lot like regular oscillating fans, except that they swing harder and are much cooler) that Burnsie may have also concentrated too heavily on the music prior to 1961 and skimmed over the last forty years. I feel compelled to come to Burnsie's defense on that count. To me, Jazz was a primer, a McGuffy's Reader for the hip set (See Pops. See Pops blow. Blow, Pops, blow). Its job was to provide context, it give us a sense of where the music had been so that we may better understand and appreciate where it is today on our own terms. One can't listen to Kenny G with a straight face after hearing Sidney Bechet, but that doesn't invalidate everything that has happened since Bechet. It only fosters a maturity in the listener, a higher expectation that makes it more difficult for us to accept lesser efforts. How popular do you think Britney Spears would be in a world where everyone has heard Sarah Vaughn? About as popular as a half-naked, surgically-enhanced teenager with no apparent sense of shame can be, which is not the point I'm trying to make at all.
Perhaps the question we should be asking about Jazz isn't "What is it lacking," but "What can we bring from it?" Maybe it wasn't Burnsie's intention to deliver a definitive document of jazz from beginning to end, a post mortem for an art that has been pinned and mounted like a butterfly. As someone smarter than me (but just barely, because I am still a Genius) said, one murders to dissect. Maybe Ken (back to Ken, are we?) was just trying to add some oil to the machine, some grease to the gears, some butter to the Brando (and if you can find a better Last Tango in Paris joke anywhere on the Web, I'll personally give you $4 cash). Maybe his sole point was to get us all talking about jazz again, listening to jazz in a new light, and playing it with renewed vigor (renew your vigor now and save 25% off the regular newsstand price). I can't speak for you (well, I could, but I won't), but as for myself, after reflecting once again on the entire 20 hour film, I was inspired to set a new record for parenthetical asides in a single paragraph just now. And that's really saying something, although I'm not quite sure what.
The point being.
Jazz has always been about the immediacy of the moment, about using echoes from the past to create something entirely unique in the now. Jazz has always inspiredand should always inspirepassion, debate, controversy and just enough silliness to keep us from ever taking ourselves too seriously. And for all its flaws and foibles, in the end, Jazz has done just that. And AAJ will continue to do so for years to come. And as for me, your own personal Genius, I'll continue to be here month after month, doing whatever in the hell it is that I do (I haven't been paying close attention).
Till next month, exit to your right and enjoy the rest of AAJ.