Debuting in January 2001 to resounding praise Ken Burns' JAZZ is nonetheless a source of continuing debate. Could it be any other way concerning jazz? Criticism generally centers around an overemphasis on Louis Armstrong and New York City and what is perceived as a dismissal of post-Bop advancements. West Coast jazz musicians feel particularly slighted; it is rumored that one famous jazzman took his own life partly due to omission from the documentary. Never mind any of that. It is impossible for any masterpiece to be all things to all people.
Indeed it is Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns' affinity for narrative storytelling that gives the film and book such power. Difficult issues such as race origin and addiction are handled honestly and evenly. You may never sit through all 19 hours of the documentary but you will read the book cover to cover. Like a child you"ll eagerly anticipate each next illustration. The closer you get to the end--as with any good novel or tragedy--you"ll genuinely grieve the decline of a loved one. What has become of this beautiful art form so many lived and died for? Where did it go? How could this happen?
JAZZ: A History of America's Music is a superb historical survey for any music lover and if nothing else a huge photo archive for the jazz aficionado. It comes in hardback and paperback and is frequently available (for better or worse) in the clearance sections of Barnes & Noble or Borders. No matter what you pay just the introduction and the featured interview with Wynton Marsalis make it worth every penny.
-David Seymour is a freelance jazz journalist in Saint Louis Missouri USA