Ken Burns Jazz – Episode 2: “The Gift”

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

Joseph Holston, Jazz, 1990, Screenprint

Flappers, Prohibition, speakeasies, and the booming stock market—the uproarious “Jazz Age”—sets the tone for this episode, and the story of jazz becomes the story of two great cities, Chicago and New York, and of two extraordinary artists whose lives and music span almost three quarters of a century—-Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. Armstrong, a fatherless waif brought up on the mean streets of New Orleans, develops what he calls his “gift”—his unparalleled genius as a trumpet player-and in 1922 makes his way to Chicago, where he gathers around him a whole generation of worshipful musicians, white as well as black. Ellington, brought up in middle-class comfort and refinement in Washington D.C., by parents who believe him “blessed”, moves to Harlem, forms his own band, and begins to play a new kind of enthralling blues-drenched music for dancing. Meanwhile, the bandleader Paul Whiteman tries to make jazz more like symphonic music—“to make a lady out of jazz”—and Fletcher Henderson plays soft, sweet music for white dancers only at the Roseland Ballroom. Then, in 1924, Louis Armstrong comes to New York to join in the Henderson band and shows the whole world how to swing.