Ken Burns’ One-Note ‘Jazz’ Goes Flat Without A Latin Beat
Popular music offers a window into the society that creates it. But in “Jazz,” the 10-part, 19-hour documentary that winds up its PBS run next week, filmmaker Ken Burns peered at life in the United States through a narrow window.
He has construed jazz — and the society that created it — almost completely in terms of black and white. In the United States of “Jazz,” the Latin music and musicians who were so important to the development of this art form — and Latinos and their culture in general — barely merit a footnote.
Proclaiming the death of jazz every so often has been, well, a jazz tradition. It has been part of the ritual of renewal that is at the heart of the music. Now jazz seems to be in its best shape in decades and no one talks about death. Carnegie Hall has added a jazz season, Lincoln Center has made jazz part of its regular programming, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, featuring Wynton Marsalis, recently passed through Boston playing Duke Ellington’s music, and even The Smithsonian has organized a repertory orchestra. And last year, the Lila Wallace Foundation granted $3.4 million to fund a national jazz network, the largest grant ever for jazz. But the renewal has stopped.
On Becoming a Citizen: Translating Memories, Transposing Dreams
I filled out the applications, got my picture taken, sent the money order, got a letter
with the appointment date, waited in line, had my name called, did the interview,
went home and forgot about it. Time passed, got a note in the mail, went to the
Knight Center, waited in line, heard the speeches, followed the instructions and left
“Jazz is known all over the world as an American musical art form and that’s it. No America, no jazz,” said drummer and bandleader Art Blakey. “I’ve seen people try to connect it to other countries, for instance to Africa, but it doesn’t have a damn thing to do with Africa.”
Blakey knew a thing or two about the music and educated several generations of musicians in his rolling graduate school the Jazz Messengers. He was, of course, right. In the beginning, there was America.