cover image Jazz: A History of America's Music

Jazz: A History of America's Music

Geoffrey C. Ward, Ken Burns. Alfred A. Knopf, $35 (489pp) ISBN 978-0-679-76539-4

A paperback reprint of the companion volume to the authoritative Burns and Ward documentary-the 19-hour, 10-episode series that aired on PBS in January, 2001-this lavishly illustrated history describes the evolution of jazz during the 20th century, focusing on the careers of a key players like Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Benny Goodman. In his introduction to the massive volume, Burns writes that his decision to make Jazz was inspired by a comment made by Gerald Early, a writer he interviewed for the authors' last documentary, Baseball. ""Two thousand years from now,"" Early said, ""there will only be three things that Americans will be known for: The Constitution, baseball and jazz music."" Burns admits he knew next to nothing about jazz before deciding to create ""the most comprehensive treatment of jazz ever committed to film,"" and there lies the work's Achilles' heel. Burns has his conclusion-that jazz is a metaphor for the United States-firmly in hand before he begins to know his subject. This approach translates into a rather tepid, conservative view of jazz. Not every subject or musician can be touched upon in one book; however, it does seem strange that such a sweepingly titled volume does discuss the musical roots of jazz, e.g. Africa's talking drums, or mention the Lockbourne Airforce Base, where many noted black jazz musicians received training. The entire 40-year period from 1960 forward is relegated to a single chapter, a rather pronounced statement about how the authors feel about more recent achievements. More than 500 illustrations and photos.