Ken Burns Jazz: Episode 5: “Swing: Pure Pleasure”

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

Joseph Holston, Jazz, 1990, Screenprint

In the mid 1930’s, as the Great Depression stubbornly refuses to lift, jazz comes as close as it has ever to come to being America’s popular music. It has a new name—Swing—and for the first time musicians become matinee idols. Benny Goodman finds himself hailed as the “King of Swing”, but he has a host rivals, among them Tommy Dorsey, Jimmie Lunceford, Glen Miller, and Artie Shaw. Louis Armstrong heads a big band of his own. Duke Ellington continues his own independent course. Billie Holiday emerges from a childhood filled with tragedy to make her first joyous recordings and begin her career as the greatest of all female jazz singers. Benny Goodman demonstrates that in a rigidly segregated country there is still room in jazz for great black and white musicians to play side by side on stage. The episode’s finale takes place on May 11, 1937, when 40,000 people gather at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem to witness what is billed as “The Music Battle of the Century,” a showdown between Goodman and the indefatigable Chick Webb, a man who hates to lose.