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Ken Burns | Jazz

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Watch Monday-Friday, July 18-22 and July 25-29, 2016 at 6pm on WMHT WORLD​

Acclaimed filmmaker Ken Burns tells the story of jazz — the quintessential American art form. The 10-part series follows the growth and development of jazz music from its beginnings to the present.


Gumbo (Beginnings to 1917) | Monday, July 18

Jazz is born in the unique musical and social cauldron of New Orleans at the turn of the 20th century, emerging from such genres as ragtime, marching bands, work songs, spirituals, European classical music, funeral parade music and the blues.

The Gift (1917 to 1924) | Tuesday, July 19

During the tumultuous era known as the “Jazz Age,” the rhythms and spirit of jazz music mirror the world that emerged in the wake of World War I. The program introduces two extraordinary individuals: Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong.

Our Language (1924 to 1928) | Wednesday, July 20

Follow musicians Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Bix Beiderbecke, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Sidney Bechet, Ethel Waters and Duke Ellington, who begins his incomparable career as the pre-eminent composer in jazz history.

The True Welcome (1929 to 1935) | Thursday, July 21

Amid the Depression, the Lindy Hop begins to catch on at dance halls. The reminiscences of two of Harlem’s great dancers, Frankie Manning and Norma Miller, inform the episode. As swing dancing catches on, a new kind of big band jazz begins to emerge.

Swing: Pure Pleasure (1935 to 1937) | Friday, July 22

Big band jazz—swing—becomes the most popular music in America. Some fans, disturbed by its popularity, start a movement to embrace “traditional” jazz. In the western “territories,” a blues-soaked big band style is set to further transform jazz.

Swing: The Velocity of Celebration (1937 to 1939) | Monday, July 25

As the Great Depression deepens, jazz thrives. The saxophone emerges as an iconic instrument of the music and women musicians emerge on the jazz scene. Benny Goodman holds the first-ever jazz concert at Carnegie Hall.

Dedicated to Chaos (1940 to 1945) | Tuesday, July 26

Young rebels take jazz in startling new directions, but their innovations are largely unnoticed amidst the war effort. In Europe, jazz is banned by the Nazis and embraced by their opponents as a symbol of freedom and democracy.

Risk (1945 to 1955) | Wednesday, July 27

Jazz, the official symbol of American democracy abroad, splinters at home into different camps: white and black, cool and hot, East and West, traditional and modern. Miles Davis becomes the most influential musician of his generation.

The Adventure (1955 to 1960) | Thursday, July 28

As rhythm and blues and rock ’n’ roll erode jazz’ audience further, the music nonetheless enjoys a time of great creativity. Free-jazz challenges all the jazz conventions, provoking a debate about the genre’s definition that continues to this day.

A Masterpiece by Midnight (1961 tp Present) | Friday, July 29

In the 1960s, jazz becomes divided into “schools”—Dixieland, swing, bop, hard bop, cool, modal, free, avant-garde. The question of what is jazz and what isn’t rages, dividing audiences, dividing musicians, dividing generations.