Ken Burns Jazz – Episode 1: “Gumbo”

Olin Arts Center, room 104
75 Russell Street
Lewiston, ME 04240
show map
Joseph Holston, Jazz, 1990, Screenprint

Joseph Holston, Jazz, 1990, Screenprint

“Jazz music objectifies America,” the trumpeter Wynton Marsalis says at the beginning of the episode.  “It is an art form that can give us painless way of understanding ourselves.” Jazz is born in New Orleans during the 1890’s, at the height of the Jim Crow era. It is a creation of the African-American community but incorporates every kind of music heard in the streets of the country’s most cosmopolitan city, from Caribbean dances and Italian opera to blues, ragtime, military marches, and the call and response of the Baptist church. Its first great practitioners are the half-mad cornetist Buddy Bolden, who may be the first man ever to play jazz; Jelly Roll Morton, who falsely claimed to have invented it and really is the first to write the music down; and Sidney Bechet, whose fiery clarinet sound mirrors his own explosive personality. Few people beyond its birthplace have a chance to hear jazz until 1917, when a group of white musicians—the Original Dixieland Jazz Band—make the first recording. It outsells every other record made up to that time, and jazz becomes a national craze.