Ken Burns' JAZZ...I ain't gonna bother

I’ll admit I was psyched about this for a while there. Up until the last couple of weeks of media coverage, which is now cranked up to the point that if you skip watching this you’re some sort of Anti-American communist deviant.

All that aside, the thing that’s COMPLETELY turned me off to the documentary miniseries is what appears to be its completely adopted mindset of Flaming Shitheel trumpet-player Wynton Marsalis.

In the view of Wynton, Louis Armstrong was the God who brought forth upon this earth his only anointed son, who is Wynton.

The “great man” approach to the history of the music is so strong that Armstrong will be mentioned in every one of the episodes. In One, we will see Louis as an infant. When we pass Louis’ heyday in the 1920s, we will be treated to Louis big bands of the 30’s, Louis’ objection to bebop in the 1940s, Louis visiting the USSR in the 50’s, Louis recording “Hello Dolly” in the 60’s, and Louis’ death in 1971.

The other handful of artists who receive this fawning adulation include Ellington, Goodman, Parker, and Miles Davis. Everyone else will be a footnote. “Okay, we got ninety seconds to explain Art Tatum! No room for Charles Mingus! Forty-five seconds for Thelonious Monk…we can’t leave him out, because he had a FUNNY NAME! Bill Evans did NOT have a funny name, so out he goes! Henry Allen played the trumpet and was from New Orleans…skip 'im! He musta been JUST LIKE Louis Armstrong!”

As has been exhaustively reported, the last 40 years are ignored, shoehorned into a final segment which mentions the deaths of Armstrong and Ellington, then shoves aside Ornette Coleman, Sam Rivers, and Eric Dolphy in favor of the Coming of the Avatar, the Great Savior of Jazz…Wynton Marsalis.

To those of you unfamiliar with the Marsalis Philosophy, it can be boiled down to this (actually, this is the Stanley Crouch Philosophy, which Wynton parrots): Jazz went astray in 1959…no, wait, 1944. Everything would be better if musicians stopped experimenting and creating new sounds because Jazz was pretty much perfect at the close of the 1930s. So let’s all wear expensive suits and get manicures and party like it’s 1939! Remember, the music doesn’t have to be all that good as long as we are LOOKING good."

(Not-so-famous Marsalis brother Branford makes a disrespectful comment about Cecil Taylor in the final installment. This is on a level with Mickey Mouse dissing Godzilla.)

Marsalis, whose status as an actual performer of jazz (as opposed to self-appointed spokesperson and guy who gets his picture in the New York Times) is about the level of a Kenny Dorham, was a creative consultant to JAZZ. His little round Talking Head is going to be the one we see the most, which is unfortunate, as some of the others are Crouch, Nat Hentoff, and Gary Giddens, each of which are intelligent and occasionally profound thinkers and speakers.

It’s really a fucking shame. This could have been good, or at least enjoyable. As it is, it comes down to another Marsalis self-promotion.

PS: Please don’t yell at me for not appreciating Louis Armstrong enough. I love Louis Armstrong. I own a couple dozen of his recordings. I’m offended that Burns and Marsalis feel that they must work that hard to GET people to appreciate Louis Armstrong.

Well, I didn’t see any of the show, but if what you say is true, and they didn’t include Mingus or Dolphy, then someone is in need of a bitchslapping. SERIOUS need. sheesh.

Ditto on what mouthbreather said. Double ditto on Mingus.

I am not among the few that have previewed this epic work, but apparently Ken Burns did get religion at the Wyntonite Church of Jazz What Be.

Which is too bad, because while Wynton can play, his incredible prejudices and his attempts to co-opt the entire genre do jazz and the listening public a disservice.

Wynton wants you to buy into his version of what jazz is, was, and should be and disregard all other false gods. Jazz is too big and too mighty for that. Like others before him who tried to use it to carry their own personal agenda (Stan Kenton comes to mind off the top of my head as someone else who tried to “help” jazz and damn near killed it), people need to understand that while Wynton’s entitled to his opinion, that’s all it is.

Don’t let anyone (including me) dictate to you what jazz is and what is not. Go find out for yourself. There’s so much great music out there, from stuff going on right this second to evidence of a session in Davenport, Iowa in 1920 and they were SWINGING. Check it out.

Listen to what you like . . . and stretch your ears and listen to something you don’t know. The potential payoff is enormous, finding new music is like discovering a new world.

I expect to be watching at least some of “Jazz.” Until I get pissed and turn off the tv, anyway. Hope it takes me a while.

your humble TubaDiva

I agree with everyone so far, although I’m still going to watch. A biased sample of great archival footage is still worth some annoying blather from the self-appointed guardians.

I think he makes pretty good records based on his views, I just wish he’d stop telling people there’s one true path.

All right, I was lying in the OP. I’m going to watch this thing, and probably tape it too. That way I can fast-forward over the little wiener’s commentary in future viewings.

David Bianculli in this morning’s NY Daily News got all orgasmic over the thing, and says that by the end you’ll be ready to give Wynton head (okay, he actually said “embrace him totally”).

He then goes on to quote a Wyntonism comparing jazz to gumbo*, which I found amusing because the last line in yesterday’s NY Times review was “Please, God, no more gumbo metaphors.”

  • “Blues is like the roux in a gumbo. Now you might have a soup, and it might be killin’, but if you don’t have no roux, you cannot have no gumbo.”

Gee, my little street fightin’ man, you are soooooo real. But I’m surprised you didn’t pick up no white folks’ English at that there Julliard School.

(He’s also incorrect about both the music and the cooking. While much fine jazz is blues-based, nearly as much isn’t. Dizzy Gillespie didn’t play no blues, for example. And while I always base my gumbos on roux, many Cajun and Creole cooks depend on okra or file powder, or a combination of the two, for the essential thickening.)

You’re just grumpy because your namesake isn’t mentioned at all, much less the focus of the series.

Hey! I saw WM playing with a WHITE GUY the other day! I thought he said that white folk can’t play jazz?

I was strongly considering skipping the series because I’m sick of KB’s lingering pans over still photos. It’s too bad that good music died around the same time as talkies came out. (1959? 1944? BAH! 1927!)

Right on, Uke.

I read three Sunday papers yesterday and all three of them had extensive coverage of the series. Hilariously, I don’t even think I need to watch it because I read so much about it.

The worst part was a list (!) of “the best Jazz musicians”. #1 was Louis Armstrong, the rest were typical - Coltrane, Parker, Davis, Monk, Basie, Ellington, etc. I just had to laugh that someone had the balls to compile a list from one of the most diverse and varied musial genres ever. I have a strong feeling it was Wynton’s although I don’t recall.

Hey Ike, here’s what I know. I went and bought the book and took MIL to the book signing when Burns was in Memphis. At the signing, we got a sneak preview at installments one and four. Yep, Armstrong is all over the place. Of course, my opinion is that that is a good thing, but I’m not here to argue your point. I will say this: Burns didn’t come up with this list himself. He explained to the very sensitive, jazz-centered crowd that he assembled a team of top current jazz musicians (yeah, yeah, yeah) and while he got to vote, he more or less let them duke it out. He didn’t discuss who was on the team but he did mention that at various times the debate was fevered. He also agreed with the crowd that he was not a musician or an authority on jazz, but that he was fascinated by a period of American history. And he further stated that he was not an historian.

Well, that’s my two cents.

Didn’t Wynton already do a series on jazz (~1995)? I seem to recall at least one or two solid episodes of it were devoted to Satchmo. As nice as it was to finally see Armstrong get his long overdue recognition, who in Hades thought it would be a good idea to rehash such a similar format ?

I’ve seen Wynton play jazz, and although he’s good I prefer his classical work. However, I’m not sure I want to sit through how many hours of him doing the same schtick all over again. As much of a good speaker as Wynton is and no matter how well he can tootle off the riffs in question, didn’t anyone whisper to Burns, “Psst, hey buddy, it’s been done before.”

Zen: He did a TV series (I THINK it was a TV series, maybe it was a direct-to-video educational deal) called “Marsalis on Music,” which taught kids concepts like “rhythm” and “harmony” and “swing” and suchlike. I’ve never seen it, so I can’t comment fairly.

To be fair to Burns (God, I am SO fucking noble), he’s giving jazz the “Burns Treatment,” complete with swelling glissandos and grave narrations and slow pans over grainy old sepia pics. And there are some good folks doing the talking head stuff, not just Wynton.

Several critics have said that Wynton is to this program what Shelby Foote was to THE CIVIL WAR, which is the thing that pisses ME off. Lots of intelligent people who don’t know anything about jazz are gonna watch this thing and come away thinking that Marsalis is not only the greatest instrumentalist since Coltrane and the finest composer since Ellington, but that every one of his weaselly words about jazz history is pure gold.

Are you saying ‘Burns’ or ‘Boo-erns’?

It was on TV - on PBS, ironically (?) enough, in 1995. He’s been a pretty regular contributor to PBS music programs, so that’s probably one of the reasons KB used him.

Ken Burns was on a local PBS talk show to promote his show, and stated that Louis Armstrong was one of the most important people of the 20th century. In my opinion that’s irresponsibly hyperbolic (sorry - I’m no historian, Jazz or otherwise, so that’s as nasty a rant as I feel entitled to.
Jazz to me is what Harvey Pekar’s character obsesses about in his comic books, just like architecture is what the dad on the Brady Bunch does for a living.) It’s just that when I hear statements like this I see the source as less of a scholar and more of a pillow who’s bearing the impression of the last person who sat on him. But that level of authority is okay for PBS: which itself seldom if ever rises above the level of the coffee-table books that that they simultaneously issue with these shows.

Ah, Harvey’s a bebop freak. He doesn’t listen to no Hot Seven records.

Well, stop me if I’ve told this one before, but when I met Dr. Timothy Leary back in 1990, I introduced myself by saying “Doc, I’ve always thought the three great Americans of our century were FDR, Louis Armstrong, and you.”

For the record critic Gary Giddins actually gets more screen time. It’s just that…“Marsalis, always ready to demonstrate a musical point with his horn, seems to anchor the film.”(that comment from Newsweek)
As for leaving people out…“I left out many more generals in ‘The Civil War.’” --Ken Burns
Even in 19 hours you cannot cover a subject like jazz.

Prepare for 498 pieces of music, 1,000 hours of footage and more than 15,000 stills.
This may be too late for those in the Eastern Time Zone but please don’t judge the series on the first installment…it’s a bit slow. The pace should pick up a bunch with Tuesday’s “The Gift” (1917-24).

I’m biased in favor of Burns. But then I’m also the chairman of our local PBS board.

Although all you jazz aficionados may have many artistic bones to pick with this series, I (being a complete jazz novice) found the first installment very interesting and quite informative.

Since I am a jazz novice, I wouldn’t notice any glaring mistakes in the historical record. So, you experts, was the first installment good history?

Urrrrrggggghhhhhh…it was worse than I thought it’d be. Hey, Burnsie, whyncha shove the camera right up Wynton’s NOSTRIL?

OOOOOOOOOOH! They’ve discovered actual recordings of Buddy Bolden! No, wait, they haven’t, they were just fooling us by playing a real loud phoney-ass cornet solo over the Bolden bio, prolly Wynton leaning into the mike. Gee, I hope not TOO many viewers were fooled into thinking they were listening to Buddy. After all, he was dead by 1906.

And Stanley Crouch on the etymology of “jelly roll”…oh, okay, it’s a form of sexual motion, is it? That’ll come as a surprise to about seven generations of blues singers…

Biggirl: The history part was pretty interesting to me, too. Very informative on New Orleans history, Creole history, Plessey vs. Fergusson, Jim Crow, etc.

It’d be nice if they actually let a piece play through though. Maybe even identify it. I understand that’s not going to happen until Episode Three, and Satchmo’s “West End Blues.”

Okay, get ready to barf, all you jazzerati. I’m a mostly clueless dabbler who happily enjoys some jazz without knowing a damned thing about it.

I’m giving the lastest Burnsian offering a pass because somewhere along the line he read too many of his press clippings. Or re-read his early ones. So he isn’t a musician or an historian. He’s still supposedly a responsible film maker. That doesn’t mean glomming onto the most convenient talking head around, then filling up the blanks with sepia tone photographs and misty landscape shots.

He did a fabulous, ground-breaking job of The Civil War. I eagerly awaited his follow-up on baseball but figured my disappointment was tied to the subject matter. Then he lost me; he turned the Lewis and Clark expedition into a bland, sentimental bore! He ignored grit, hardship, heroism, human drama and historical context and churned out a pastel, bloated Costerian yawn fest.

(Okay, so I’m up for nomination for the most adjectives in single sentence. Bear with me, I’m rolling…)

I don’t want to see what he’ll do to jazz because he’s lost my respect. Full stop. I enjoy baseball in a mild way, but he made it tedious. Good film makers don’t do that. Hell, clever, careful, honest film makers have gotten me fascinated with bugs and physics!

Simply put, I don’t want to see what he does to jazz.

(This added precisely nothing intelligent or informed to the discussion. It happens.)


Oh piffle, fie and spit.

That’s Costnerian yawn-fest. Like Kevin. Bloat. Excess.

::sigh:: Speaking of lessons about excess…

Slinking back off to IMHO,