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Controversial? Come on. How can this be controversial? Y2K was controversial. The November 7th U.S. Presidential election was controversial. But Ken Burns doing a service for the millions of PBS television viewers who know jazz only as a four-letter word? How can that be controversial?
A five-CD boxed set, The Story Of America’s Music is arranged in chronological order to depict the history of jazz in general terms. There are holes. Fats Waller is missing. So are Jon Hendricks, Stan Kenton, Eddie Jefferson, Lennie Tristano, Randy Weston, Eddie Harris, and Lester Bowie. World jazz, Latin jazz, contemporary jazz, Third Stream and free jazz are only hinted at. Burns stays with the mainstream of jazz in America. He traces its development into the 1960s. After that, much is left to the listener to determine which directions jazz has taken. Since post-1960 history is fresh in the memories of many listeners, this merely opens the door for the avid fan to research and learn more on his own. However, for the younger listener (and television viewer), several decades remain nearly unaccounted for. A lot of updating will be required for members of the younger generation who may look to Ken Burns’ series as more than a “Jazz 101” introductory learning experience.
Disc one covers the 1920s and earlier, while disc two moves into the swing era. Disc three makes the transition from popular World War II big bands to the bebop revolution. Disc four attempts to cover the pivotal late 1950s, but cannot possibly do so. Eleven tracks simply aren’t enough. Disc five advances the chronology from Stan Getz & Charlie Byrd to Cassandra Wilson. Again, it’s what’s missing that draws all the attention from those of us who are seasoned in the jazz repertoire. But it all comes down to who Burns intended as his audience. The set (and 10-part video documentary) works well for the outsider who has watched jazz from a distance and now wants to “get hip.”
Burns’ five-CD boxed set covers all the known quantities. Including complete discographical information and an informative 13-page booklet by Geoffrey C. Ward, The Story Of America’s Music makes a fine gift. The sound is reproduced well. Burns covers a lot of jazz in one small collection. Filling in the holes and extending the set to cover non-mainstream areas can take a lifetime to achieve. That’s what we do.
Track and Artist Listing:Star Dust- Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra;Death Comes-a-Creepin’ in My Room- Fred McDowell;Memphis Blues- James Reese Europe’s 369th U.S. Infantry “Hell Fighters” Band;Livery Stable Blues- The Original Dixieland Jazz Band;Charleston- James P. Johnson;Chimes Blues- King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band;Back Water Blues- Bessie Smith;The Pearls- Jelly Roll Morton;Dead Man Blues- Jelly Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers;Wild Cat Blues- Clarence Williams’ Blue Five;Cake Walkin’ Babies (From Home)- Clarence Williams’ Blue Five;Sugar Foot Stomp- Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra;Heebie Jeebies- Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five;Potato Head Blues- Louis Armstrong and His Hot Seven;West End Blues- Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five;The Mooche- Duke Ellington and His Orchestra;East St. Louis Toodle-Oo- Duke Ellington and His Washingtonians;Black Beauty- Duke Ellington and His Orchestra;Mood Indigo- The Jungle Band;There Ain’t No Sweet Man (Worth the Salt of My Tears)- Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra featuring Bix Beiderbecke;Singin’ the Blues- Frank Trumbauer and His Orchestra featuring Bix Beiderbecke;Riverboat Shuffle- Frank Trumbauer and His Orchestra featuring Bix Beiderbecke;Hotter than ‘ell- Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra;I Got Rhythm- Ethel Waters;It Don’t Mean a Thing (if it Ain’t Got That Swing)- Duke Ellington and His Orchestra;Echoes of Harlem- Duke Ellington and His Orchestra;Moten Swing- Benny Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra;St. Louis Blues- Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra;Ain’t Misbehavin’- Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra;For Dancers Only- Jimmie Lunceford and His Orchestra;King Porter Stomp- Benny Goodman and His Orchestra;Rose Room- The Benny Goodman Sextet;Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing)- Benny Goodman and His Orches
Track Listing: Star Dust; Death Comes-a-Creepin
Personnel: Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra; Fred McDowell; James Reese Europe
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.