Ken Burns Jazz – Episode 4: “The True Welcome”

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

Joseph Holston, Jazz, 1990, Screenprint

As this episode begins, America finds itself mired in the Great Depression, the worst crisis since the Civil War. With the economy in tatters, jazz is called upon to lift the spirits of a frightened country. In Harlem, as dancers Frankie Manning and Norma Miller recall, people are finding solace in a new dance, the Lindy Hop, and in the big band music played by Chick Webb and Fletcher Henderson. At the same time the pianists Fat Waller and Art Tatum spread their own very different brands of musical joy. Both Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington are prospering in despite of the Depression: Armstrong defies one of America’s most-feared gangsters and revolutionizes American singing, just as he has already transformed instrumental playing, while Ellington’s sophisticated music and elegant personal style help change the perceptions—the expectations—of an entire race. Meanwhile, Benny Goodman forms a big band of his own, broadcasting hot swinging music every Saturday night on the “Let’s Dance” radio show. When the show is canceled, Goodman, struggling to hold his band together, embarks on a disastrous cross-country tour in summer of 1935. But at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angles young people go wild when Goodman’s men begin to play the jazz they love—and the Swing Era is born.