[Dixielandjazz] Ken Burns / interview tapes

Rob McCallum rakmccallum at hotmail.com
Sat Feb 1 14:44:15 PST 2003

Hi Hans and listmates,

As has been said, the Ken Burns series has certain good points and bad
points.  To my mind, the best aspects generally revolve around pictures and
film footage rather than the rampant and biased opinions of Marsalis, Crouch
and Giddins.  Since I haven't filmed my own jazz movie, I hesitate to be too
critical, though I question how one can have a two hour segment on Harlem
big bands and not even mention Cab Calloway (he was only mentioned in a
later episode and called an "entertainer" in a condescending context).

The film works best when Burns allows musicians to speak for themselves
(which is rare).  I haven't seen it since it originally aired, but I recall
the segment when Dave Brubeck emotionally recalls his experiences to be very
poignant, and when bassist Charlie Haden relates his own experiences playing
with Ornette Coleman at the Five Spot and the interest and controversy
surrounding it, to be interesting.  I also recall the segment on James Reese
Europe to be well done (though I can't vouch for its accuracy).  Offhand, I
don't recall that there was much about the Traditional players of the
forties and fifties except perhaps in relation to Armstrong's career.  For
those interested in the modern groups of the fifties, pay attention because
Burns runs through them almost as an afterthought.

As much as I love the music of Armstrong and Goodman, I think it was a bad
approach to use their careers to tie such a long film together.  With the
material that he actually covered, he probably could have edited it down by
at least half and made it more cohesive.  Did anyone else find it repetitive
as well as patchy?  I found some of it to be rather dull (and if I felt that
way, I can't imagine how some of the lay public felt about it).  Though I
may have just been put off by the time I was in the middle of hour 8 or 9.
I always see the dvd set on sale at Costco and I'll pick it up and think, I
should buy this, but then I think, I can pick up a lot of used records for
$100 and put it back

In the long run, perhaps the most important contribution by Burns will be
the hundreds of hours of videotaped interviews of actual musicians, most all
of which were not used in the final product (discarded in favor of the,
sometimes absurd, chatter of the self-proclaimed experts).  Does anyone know
what's to become of them (the interview tapes, not the "experts")?  They
should be sent to an archive (perhaps the Jazz Studies program at Rutgers),
for use by the public as well as students and scholars..  As well, PBS (if
they own the rights), should make them available to others producing films
or documentaries on jazz.  The only reason why I know they exist is because
about 6 or 8 months before Jazz was released, there was a 10 minute or so
promotional advertisement for the series with Burns standing in a room of
wall to wall videotapes and bragging about how many musicians were
interviewed for the project (some of whom have passed away in the interim).

All the best,
Rob McCallum

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