Saturday, July 23, 2005

Ken burns ass: Notes on Ken Burns' Jazz

I FINALLY finished ALL TEN FREAKIN' VOLUMES of Ken Burns' Jazz. I'm surprised at how objectionable I found it. Two (2!!!) volumes on swing? And, yes, Louis Armstrong was the very greatest musician of the 20th century. But then it should have just been called Ken Burns' Louis Armstrong in that case. He certainly warrants almost twenty hours of footage. Or perhaps it could have been called something like Classic Jazz. It's a standard objection, I know, but I find it appalling that we're only at 1961 by Volume 9! I concede that I watched it through my popist colored lenses, convulsing at what is now America's classical music, with all the snobberies and inequities of institutional funding that implies. Look, I can't get enough Monk lately. Even paid cash money for the Ken Burns' Jazz Monk CD at Borders in Chicago. Still, I'd love to see twenty hours articulating a pop aesthetic - all the assembly line arrangments and dance crazes and novelty tunes and schmaltzy renditions. Who will fund Kevin Bozelka's American Pop: A Video History (named after my favorite ever box set)?

Below are the notes I scribbled while watching. Some of them don't even make sense to me. Most of it's just songs I need to hear or artists I need to know or factoids I should spout off at parties or questions I want answered. I figure if I had to suffer through all ten volumes, you should too in some way.

Ken Burns' Jazz

Vol. 1 -
Creole virtuosos fused with Negro bluesmen to create jazz. They were integrated because Creoles became "black" under Jim Crow Laws.
Vernon and Irene Castle danced a cleaner version of black dances.
Freddie Keppard turned down his chance to record the first jazz record because he was afraid his style would get stolen.

Vol. 2 -
Speakeasies gave jazz musicians jobs. And it actually eroded stiff morals. Women didn't drink in saloons but they did in speakeasies.
James B. Johnson wrote "The Charleston."
Willie "The Lion" Smith - Stride piano, cutting contexts.
James "Bubber" Miley - Played with Duke.
Austin High Gang - from Austin, IL; Jimmy McPartland
New Orleans Rhythm Kings - aped Oliver/Armstrong
Paul Whiteman - orchestrated jazz; made it precise/predictable as classical music; gave work to black arrangers
Fletcher Henderson - black king of jazz in NYC
Why did audiences recognize Satch's genius right away? It often seems as if genius is/was way ahead (or behind) of audiences? Why did it coincide with Satch?

Vol. 3 -
Babe Egan's Hollywood Redheads - all-girl orchestra
Jean Goldkette had the first great white band
Bessie Smith in St. Louis Blues
Black Swan Records - all-black label
Frankie Trumbauer - "Singin' The Blues"
Morton - "Dead Man Blues;" lost steam because the world became focused on soloists rather than New Orleans polyphony
Irving Mills - took 55% of Ellington's earnings and half of publishing
"Black and Tan Fantasy"

Vol. 4 -
Record industry dies somewhat in the 1930s; radio becomes huge and paradoxically disseminates more black music.
Fats Waller - "Handful of Keys"
Big band - an American invention; it's what we have instead of the symphony
Henderson - reeds/brass/rhythm
Savoy - first integrated building
Artie Shaw - "Music on radio sold products and that sickened you."
Let's Dance radio show played rhumbas, sweet dance, hot swing. Benny Goodman's groups won an audition (who else auditioned?) by one vote to appear regularly on the show. Goodman used Henderson's arrangements. "King Porter Stomp"
People listened more than danced to Duke. "Sepia Panorama," "Black Beauty," "Reminiscing in Tempo." No irony nor protest but wonder, pride.
Armstrong - Johnny Collins vs. Tommy Rockwell/Dutch Schultz. Collins overbooked Armstrong and failed to pay his taxes.
Goodman - The West had a reputation for being corny. Club managers wanted dance music, waltzes. Jazz vs. dance/pop/stock arrangements. But "King Porter Stomp" was huge in LA. Why there? Nowhere else?

Vol. 5 -
Goodman played to high school students (not teenagers) at the Paramount in Times Square.
Boys dancing together! 12:00 in.
Ellington - "Symphony in Black" "Jazz is music; swing business." Narrator: He continued on his own independent course, refusing to be categorized.
Helen Oakley suggested Goodman put Teddy Wilson on stage.

Vol. 6 -
Why Kansas City? Dream of the West for African-Americans.
Mary Lou Williams
Implications of Carnegie Hall date in 1938?
Count Basie - importance of space/time. Sparse playing.

Vol. 7 -
If Kansas City was so hot, why did Charlie Parker leave it for NYC?
Cab Calloway couldn't tolerate Dizzy's antics and improvisations. "Chinese music."
Billy Strayhorn - gay!!
Duke was sick of the constricting, pop song format.

Vol. 8 –
Notice how the swing volumes had a flashy intro card. This one ("Risk") just has stark lettering on black background. Now, it’s “young people” who flock to see Sinatra and the singing idols. Who's in the pic with the “No Dancing” sign? And “No Dancing” - gimme a break. Fuck off!
Classical musicians called them “the devil’s intervals;” boppers called them “flatted fifths.”
Satchmo smoked week almost daily.
Ellison on hootin'/honkin' saxes.
Parker's mother wanted no jazz at his funeral.
Granz - Parker with strings
Marsalis - horse destroyed jazz's communal feeling.
Louis Jordan/R&B - why introduced him/it?
Miles Davis did not have Dizzy's virtuosity so he based his style on timbre/melody. Very tender sound to come out of a man. "Bird and Dizz were great but they weren't sweet. We shook people's ears a little softer, took the music more mainstream." The shock horror!
Modern Jazz Quartet - cool, demanded respect.
Parker's admirers thought they could do what he could. Only the most highly skilled musicians could play bebop. Beats thought it was spontaneous - anyone could do it. Allen Ginsberg - available to all; just pick up your axe and blow. Enthusiasts misunderstood.
Joe Hendricks (I think): They tried to say to the audience “Look, lift yourselves up to where we are. We’re not that far out there, you know. We’re just a little more hip than the average person. So come on, get hip, you know. Dig this. Dig this. Take that wax out of your ears.
Wynton: When an art form is created, the question is how do you come to it not how does it come to you. Like, Beethoven’s music is not going to come to you. Or the art of Picasso won’t come to you. Shakespeare. You have to go to it. And when you go to it, you get the benefits of it.
Moose The Mooche – Parker’s dealer
Wasted for the sessions of “Bebop” and “Lover Man”
Gillespie – Melba Liston – trombonist
Chano Pozo _ congas (from Cuba)
Gillespie: “Dancers didn’t care whether we played a flatted fifth or a rupture one hundred and twenty-ninth. They’d just stand around the bandstand and gawk.” Well, which is it? You want dancers or not?
Frankie Manning: It was not music for dancing.
More signs: You Must Be Seated
Lindy Hopping Strictly Prohibited By Order of the Management
Wilson - Monk found cracks in the diatonic scale which Western music is based on. Played with splayed fingers, percussive style. Half steps.
Billie Holiday - "Autumn in New York"
Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, etc. in LA. Serene sound. Cool/West Coast Jazz. Dave Brubeck - "Blue Rondo A La Turk." Paul Desmond.
"Take Five" - first jazz million seller.
Granz - Jazz at the Philharmonic Troupe - integrated.
Armstrong - "Whiffenpoof Song"
5/15/47 – Armstrong appears with Teagarden at NY’s Town Hall; led to All Stars.
City father of New Orleans would not let Armstrong play cuz Teagarden was in the band; this is why he’s not buried there now.

Volume 9 -
Guess I didn't learn anything.

Volume 10 -
Freedom Now Suite - Max Roach, Oscar Brown Jr., Abbey Lincoln
charles mingus presents charles mingus - columbia records refused to have the lyrics on "Original Faubus Fables" on the record so Mingus released it on Candid Records.
Art Ensemble of Chicago - not since Black Swan Records in the 1920s did a all-black entity control all aspects of the business
Cecil Taylor once said that since he prepared for his concerts, the audience should prepare too.
Branford Marsalis: "That's total self-indulgent bullshit as far as I'm concerned. I mean, you know, I love baseball. I mean, I'm not going to go and catch a hundred grounders before I got to a game. That's what we pay to see them do what they do. And to appreciate them."
Ellington kissed Nixon four times, one for each cheek
George Wein - Invited Led Zep and Sly to Newport Jazz Festival. Miles stayed for four days where he would normally jet. At 43, he felt old. "I started realizing that most rock musicians didn't know anything about music. But they were popular and I wasn't prepared to be a memory yet."
Gerald Early: "What happened, I think, was that the very elements that made Miles such a great band leader in the earlier days when he was playing acoustic music when he was able to bring out everybody's individuality within the framework of his own vision fell apart with the fusion bands cuz there was too much going on and too much of people not listening to each other. So instead of being the kind of challenge that jazz normally is when people are listening to each other and trying to solo but compliment at the same time just became playing tennis without a net."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pop means fashion, and fashion is just mass markets buying into advertising. Whether you liek it not, there is a difference between low art and high art. Charlie Parker was and is the later. Youa re the former. You are an idiot. Your comment "guess I didn't learn anything" in the later volumes applies to your whole life.

3:20 PM  

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