I don't disagree with you about Burns' documentaries, mainly those after "The Civil War" (which
actually DID educate many people because it presented some first-person history that was obscure
except to scholars, plus it presented the Southern interpretation of things on equal footing with
the Union history, and thus presented some facts and themes not taught in most schools north of the
Mason-Dixon Line and vice-versa).
So my critique of his "Jazz" documentary would be a larger point that applies to many other of his
documentaries -- he's using the publc trough (via PBS and CPB) to present entertainment rather than
educational programming, which really goes against the whole point of PBS. I blame both Burns and
the PBS feifdoms and their backers in Congress. Restating pat consensuses with pretty pictures is
not educational and thus shouldn't be funded. The only kind of documentary that should be worthy of
the public dime should be something that breaks new ground on scholarship of historical
investigation, or a striking new interpretation of facts.
Going back to my original thread -- PUBLISH OR PERISH ALERT ... I think there's an interesting
scholarly paper or ARSC Journal article about the history of Jazz history/anthology collections. It
seems this actually goes back to the Hot Jazz Revival so forgotten by modern consensus history.
Because guys like Lu Watters revived the old music, guys like George Avakian got hired to go into
the vaults and reissue the originals. Then the LP era came along and albums like "I Like Jazz", "The
Jazz Makers," the original Riverside and Emarcy reissue anthologies, the "RCA Victor Encyclopedia of
Jazz" were issued. I would say the next thing was the first Smithsonian Collection of Classic jazz
in the early 70s. Then along come artist-specific all-inclusive reissue labels like Mosaic. Then two
more Smithsonian products and the Ken Burns documentary and accompanying many-CD reissue series. It
would make for an interesting article, looking at the focus and agenda of each
anthologizer/historian and looking at how various artists are considered over time (some have become
more "important" and some less as time has moved forward).
-- Tom Fine
----- Original Message -----
From: "Arthur Gaer" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Thursday, April 04, 2013 5:23 PM
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] revisiting an old thread -- jazz anthologies
I don't know, one could argue that the later understandings are the revisionism!
But I think some of the criticisms (though not all) are setting aside the realities of this sort of
long form, broadcast, documentary filmmaking.
No surprise to anyone who watches his docs, Burns pretty much always follows the conventional,
received wisdom approach to whatever topic he's covering. Likely that's simply the approach he
prefers, but likely that's also the approach that draws an audience and funders. Armstrong,
Ellington and Parker are well-known to those who barely know jazz--and their artistic longevity lets
their careers be used to touch on others less known who they overlapped with. *Also* their
popularity means there's likely more extant footage, recordings, remembrances, etc. that can be used
in the work.
If one goes to the less well-known performers where there's less material to work with, would one
then lose the casual audience while having to leave out some great material on the better known
performers and movements? Often available funding--and available broadcast timeslots--dictates the
length of a documentary work. I haven't seen the series since it was broadcast--and I have no idea
what might have ended up on the cutting room floor--but what should have been cut out in favor of
the musicians and genres that were slighted or outright ignored?
If one is writing a book, one has the time and pages to cover a lot of less well-known paths and
performers, but one can cover *so* much more in a book than one can in a film.
I do agree that Burns' frequent rush to cut off history in 1960 or 1970 is really annoying. Burns'
"Baseball" doc similarly lumped 1970 to 1993 in one final episode (with prior episodes covering a
decade each) while focusing far, far too much on the Red Sox and New York teams (and I say that as a
huge Red Sox fan) to provide a narrative thread. Having heard Burns talk more recently (about his
Dust Bowl series) it seems he's of the opinion that one can't get proper perspective on more recent
events--that when it's too close, it's journalism, not history, and the judgement of that history
hasn't yet been made.
Again, that's a very conventional approach, but it's the approach that appeals to the casual viewer,
not the sort of specialists who would be reading this list (or attending the SABR conventions).
However, I agree that stopping in the 60's for a broadcast over 40 years later is far too much
perspective. Enjoying the soul-jazz I've heard I'd have loved to know more, as I would about
genres like acid-jazz of which I'm ignorant (I'd skip the soft jazz, though). And I'd love to know
more about the different early strains of syncopation, and the revivals and how they influenced
their contemporaries and those that followed, and the other things mentioned in this thread that I
really know nothing about.
The question I'd raise is: should one judge "Jazz" for what was on the screen, or for what wasn't
there? It was conventional history, but was there much wrong with what was actually shown, or is
the issue more what was excluded (including the far too early cut-off date)?
[log in to unmask]
On Apr 4, 2013, at 4:10 PM, Tom Fine wrote:
> Hi Arthur:
> See, this makes sense. The "establishment" has always been along the same lines as the college
> course and the anthologies -- indeed, they are the creators of the college courses and the
> anthologies. I don't think Martin Williams was reflecting radical new opinions in the early 70s
> when he put the Smithsonian stamp on the Satchmo/Duke/Bird line of history. This was pretty much
> the established view of jazz books and magazines in the 50s and 60s.
> The problem with Ken Burns' approach was that he was basically being fed and then adopting a 1970
> view of jazz history in the mid-1990s. A lot had happened, and there was the luxury of time passed
> to re-examine everything, including the early days, swing and bebop. Enough time had passed since
> the 60's to see how important soul-jazz and acid-jazz had been to the music business (and to the
> buying public). And the link was never made that the alleged "dead end" of fusion-jazz had
> actually evolved into the very popular "smooth" jazz, which was at full popularity around the time
> Burns started working on his project. Net-net, I think that's lazy documentary-making. And,
> because he was imposing an earlier understanding of history on a modern audience, willfully
> ignoring a lot of subsequent data, it's historical revisionism.
> -- Tom Fine
> ----- Original Message ----- From: "Arthur Gaer" <[log in to unmask]>
> To: <[log in to unmask]>
> Sent: Thursday, April 04, 2013 3:41 PM
> Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] revisiting an old thread -- jazz anthologies
> Good thought!
> Many of the critics and writers were interviewed in 1996 and 1997, while Wynton Marsalis wasn't
> interviewed on camera until June 12, 1999. A lot of the other musician interviews were also in
> the middle of 1999.
> What was said off camera and when can't be determined by this evidence, of course.
> Arthur Gaer
> [log in to unmask]
> On Apr 4, 2013, at 2:46 PM, Tom Fine wrote:
>> I haven't had time to do this.
>> Here are transcripts of some of the Burns interviews for "Jazz":
>> It would be interesting to analize them by date, because I think it's reasonable to surmise that
>> those who spoke first had more influence on the shape of the emerging documentary than those who
>> spoke last -- unless Burns went in with a fully-baked pre-supposition and did interviews just to
>> fit his "narrative."
>> Regarding Don Cox's statement:
>>> I think what we see is one of the bad effects of college courses in
>>> jazz. The Ken Burns/Marsalis story is a typical study curriculum.
>>> The standard story of 20C art history is a similar simplification. But
>>> one has to start somewhere.
>> I don't think it's ever a good idea to start at a place of misinformation or agenda-driven
>> opinion masked as "history." Regarding art history, one thing that I've noticed is how the
>> promoters and gallery owners get to write this history, if they live long enough. I guess that's
>> no different from record label owners and A&R folks.
>> -- Tom Fine
>> ----- Original Message ----- From: "Arthur Gaer" <[log in to unmask]>
>> To: <[log in to unmask]>
>> Sent: Thursday, April 04, 2013 2:20 PM
>> Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] revisiting an old thread -- jazz anthologies
>> Just a quick note: I saw Ken Burns speaking about his Jazz series on a panel with Stanley Crouch
>> at Harvard at the time of the initial broadcasts.
>> Burns was pretty emphatic that Wynton Marsalis had little to do with the content or structure of
>> the series. That they didn't talk to Marsalis until they were well into the production of the
>> series when the content and structure had already been established, and that they basically just
>> did one three-hour interview that was interspersed throughout the series.
>> I probably have some of the details wrong (the talk was twelve years ago) but Burns was quite
>> adamant that Marsalis did not guide the series. So Burns may have adopted Marsalis's outlook as
>> part of his conventional narrative, but unless Burns was deliberately dissembling in his
>> discussion, Marsalis wasn't the one who was controlling the history in the series.
>> So it may be that Marsalis *would have* or (even did) discuss the traditional revival movement,
>> Bunk Johnson, etc. but if so, it was likely Burns who wasn't interested in putting that in his
>> series, rather than Marsalis.
>> Arthur Gaer
>> [log in to unmask]
>> On Apr 4, 2013, at 12:38 PM, Cary Ginell wrote:
>>> I might also add that the early world music efforts of Herbie Mann and Stan Getz and the bossa
>>> nova movement are also excluded from these so-called representative anthologies, more detritus
>>> from the ill effects of Ken Burns' "Jazz," which ignored all of this, probably because the trad
>>> jazz, world music, and boss nova movements were all spearheaded by white performers. You'd think
>>> Wynton Marsalis, a traditionalist himself and the Svengali behind Burns' myopic rewriting of
>>> jazz history, would have embraced the coming of Lu Watters, the rediscovery of Bunk Johnson, and
>>> the British trad movement of the 1950s, but I have not seen acknowledgement of this period at
>>> all from him.
>>> Cary Ginell