The Ken Burns jazz series for PBS is the biggest promotion that America’s native music has ever had. And still the knock from musicians is that it doesn’t swing. Burns has taken the nightlife music of New Orleans 100 years ago and set it in a video museum-as if to say: (a) it’s great and (b) it’s over-or as if the spirit of improvisation and rebellion in the music could have died around 1960. Nobody knocks the musical giants, especially Armstrong and Ellington, that Ken Burns lionizes all over again. And nobody knocks Burns way of putting still pictures and narration together.
Yet lots of players and fans want to contend with the eminence behind Ken Burns, the trumpet star and cocky voluble commentator Wynton Marsalis. It’s Wynton’s ax that this series is grinding: the idea that America’s classical music is now a virtually closed, canonical art form from our past. We’re arguing with Ken Burns’ Jazz.
(Hosted by Christopher Lydon)
Gary Burton, President Berklee College of Music and vibraphone star since he played with Miles Davis in the 50’s and Billy Pierce, tenor saxophone player from the Berklee College of Music.