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.