Jazz by Ken Burns
“JAZZ” is a documentary by Ken Burns released 2001 that focuses on the creation and development of jazz, America’s “greatest cultural achievement.” The first episodes entitled, “Gumbo, Beginnings to 1917” and “The Gift (1917-1924), explain the early growth of jazz as it originates in New Orleans and its expands to Chicago and New York during the Jazz Age. In assessing the first two episodes of Ken Burns' 2001 documentary, "JAZZ," this essay will explore the history of jazz, the music's racial implications, and it's impact on society. In doing so, attention will also be given to the structure of the documentary, and the effectiveness of documentary film in retelling the past.
In the first episode of “JAZZ,” Ken Burns demonstrates how the creation of jazz was made possible by the social and political circumstances in New Orleans during the late seventeenth century and early eighteenth century. By combining the historical explanations of narrator Keith David and the emotional commentaries of African American artists, he retells history in an unconventional way that gives a more meaningful description than textbooks and encyclopedias. As Keith David explains, New Orleans was the home to two different social circumstances: it was the most “cosmopolitan city in America” as well as the center of the slave trade. New Orleans was a place filled with “people from all nationalities living side by side” who brought upon a musical “gumbo” of Caribbean rhythms, classical music, minstrel music, the blues, ragtime and more. These diverse musical styles were taken advantage of by the African American people, in a period of time where they were deprived of the freedom that America promised to all of her inhabitants. African Americans found the liberty they sought for in music and dancing. Ken Burns supports this idea by explaining how blacks were allowed to sing, dance and play the drums in the Congo Square as he demonstrates it in a series of...
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