The BBC, sceptical about the British appetite for extended documentary programmes, edited Ken Burns' epic 17-hour history Jazz
back to around 12 hours. That's what's presented in this box set of the series, and while the flow of the original is preserved, so are its idiosyncrasies. The film dwells at length on early jazz, particularly on its origins in New Orleans, and there's a good deal of absorbing history here. On the other hand, in suggesting that the important work of jazz was done by 1975, Burns gives us cause to question how much of his earlier research is awry too. There isn't much here to reflect the brimming vitality of post-1960s jazz, and many listeners and musicians have been enraged by Burns' neglect of such pivotal figures as Joe Zawinul, Keith Jarrett, Jan Garbarek, Pat Metheny and Michael Brecker--all players whose work responds vigorously to the question that Burns thinks nobody can answer: "Where are the modern equivalents of Armstrong, Ellington, Parker and Coltrane?"
Armstrong and Ellington are the touchstones of Burns' film, providing the narrative thread around which the stories of other major figures turn, among them Bechet, Basie, Goodman, Parker, Miles Davis and Coltrane. Burns also finds populist mileage in the politicisation of jazz, making dramatic capital out of racial divides that most jazz players, black and white, have ignored. The fact is that almost all jazz players, regardless of race, have felt like outsiders. Despite such distractions, Jazz is the longest jazz documentary yet produced, and it's rich in musical examples and classic, rare and unseen footage. Even when working with simple stills, Burns uses seductive camera work and Keith David's epigrammatic narration to maximum effect. There's plenty to enjoy here, but viewers should be aware, as Joshua Redman points out in Musicians' Views in our Ken Burns' Jazz shop, that Burns' film is an often compelling perspective on jazz, not a definitive study. --Mark Gilbert
The Complete 12 and a half hour series on 4 DVDs ...JAZZ is an extraordinary, amazing tour de force. Over twelve and a half hours long, JAZZ is the critically acclaimed, definitive history of Jazz music from its roots in the 19th century up to today.
Produced by Ken Burns one of America's most celebrated and respected documentary film-makers this BBC co-production cost in excess of $13,000,000 and took over six years to make.
JAZZ features literally hundreds of rare and classic recordings and live performances from a century of Jazz music, supported by exclusive interviews and rare or never before seen film clips and still photographs.
Armstrong, Ellington, Basie, Goodman, Brubeck, Davis all the big names are here but so too are dozens of less well known artists whose talent and creativity helped to shape the course of a true musical revolution. Achieving a perfect balance between intelligent commentary and archive performances (the best of which are allowed to run uninterrupted for gratifying lengths of time),...
JAZZ is the best American documentary film I have ever seen. NEW YORK POST
the material is fascinating, the research effort is awesome and no jazz lover should miss this. DAILY MAIL