Ken Burns Jazz – Episode 3: “Our Language”

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

Joseph Holston, Jazz, 1990, Screenprint

As the stock market soars to record heights, jazz is played in dance halls everywhere. The music now places more emphasis on the innovation of supremely gifted individuals; for the first time, improvising soloists and singers take center stage. Bessie Smith helps make an industry out of the blues—and faces down the Ku Klux Klan. Bix Beiderbecke, a brilliant cornetist from the American heartland, demonstrates that white musicians, too, can make important contributions to jazz—only to destroy himself with alcohol at the age of 28, Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw—each the gifted son of Jewish immigrants—find in jazz a way out of the ghetto. Sidney Bechet takes his music and his combative personality to Europe. Duke Ellington gets the break of a lifetime when his band is hired by the most celebrated of all Harlem nightspots, the gangster-owned, white-only Cotton Club, and beings to broadcast his distinctive music all across the country. Meanwhile, Louis Armstrong returns to Chicago, and in 1928, with the pianist Earl Hines, records his first great masterpiece, “West End Blues”, which establishes jazz as an expressive art comparable to any other, and proves that Armstrong is the music’s presiding genius, what the Wright Brothers are to travel and Albert Einstein is to science.