No. of Recommendations: 29
"Jazz: the Epic"

Ken Burns's 144-hour Extremely Important Documentary, "Jazz."

Fade up on a grainy old photograph of a man in a three-piece suit, holding a cornet. Or maybe a bicycle horn. Who can tell?

Narrator Skunkbucket LeFunke was born in 1876 and died in 1901. No one who heard him is alive today. The grandchildren of the people who heard him are not alive today. The great-grandchildren of the people who heard him are not alive today. He was never recorded.

Wynton Marsalis I'll tell you what Skunkbucket LeFunke sounded like. He had this big rippling sound, and he always phrased off the beat, and he slurred his notes. And when the Creole bands were still playing “De-bah-de-bah-ta-da-tah,” he was already playing “Bo-dap-da-lete-do-do-do-bah!” He was just like gumbo, ahead of his time.

Announcer LeFunke was a cornet player, gambler, card shark, pool hustler, pimp, male prostitute, Kelly Girl, computer programmer, brain surgeon and he invented the Internet.

Stanley Crouch When people listened to Skunkbucket LeFunke, they heard “Do-do-dee-bwap-da-dee-dee-de-da-da-doop-doop-dap.” And they knew even then how deeply profound that was.

Announcer It didn't take LeFunke long to advance the art of jazz past its humble beginnings in New Orleans whoredom with the addition of a bold and sassy beat.

Wynton Marsalis Let me tell you about the Big Four. Before the Big Four, jazz drumming sounded like “BOOM-chick-BOOM-chick-BOOM-chick.” But now they had the Big Four, which was so powerful some said it felt like a Six. A few visiting musicians even swore they were in an Eight.

Stanley Crouch It was smooth and responsive, and there was no knocking and pinging, even on 87 octane.

Wynton Marsalis Even on gumbo.

Announcer When any musician in the world heard Louis Armstrong for the first time, they gnawed their arm off with envy, then said the angels probably wanted to sound like Louis. When you consider a bunch of angels talking in gruff voices and singing "Hello Dolly," you realize what a stupid aspiration that is.

Gary Giddy Louis changed jazz because he was the only cat going “Do-da-dep-do-wah-be-be,” while everyone else was doing “Do-de-dap-dit-dit-dee.”

Stanley Crouch And that was very profound.

Wynton Marsalis Like gumbo.

Stanley Crouch Uh-huh.

Matt Glaser I always have this fantasy that when Louis performed in Belgium, Heisenberg was in the audience and he was blown away and that's where he got the idea for his Uncertainty Principle.

Wynton Marsalis Because the Uncertainty Principle, applied to jazz, means you never know if a cat is going to go “Dap-da-de-do-ba-ta-bah” or “Dap-da-de-do-bip-de-beep.”

Gary Giddy Louis was the first one to realize that.

Stanley Crouch And that can be very profound.

Matt Glaser I thought it was a box of chocolates...

Announcer The Savoy Ballroom brought people of all races colors and political persuasions together to get sweaty as Europe moved closer and closer to the brink of World War II.

Savoy Dancer We didn't care what color you were at the Savoy. We only cared if you were wearing deodorant.

Stanley Crouch Wynton always wears deodorant.

Matt Glaser I'll bet Arthur Murray was on the dance floor and he was thinking about Louis and that's where he got the idea to open a bunch of dance schools.

Stanley Crouch And that was very profound.

Gary Giddy Let's talk about Louis some more. We've already wasted three minutes of this 57-part documentary not talking about Louis.

Wynton Marsalis He was an angel, a genius, much better than other cats.

Stanley Crouch He invented the word "cats."

Matt Glaser Not the show, "Cats."

Stanley Crouch That wasn't profound at all.

Wynton Marsalis Louis invented swing, he invented jazz, he invented the telephone, the automobile and the polio vaccine.

Matt Glaser And the Internet.

Stanley Crouch Very profound.

Announcer Louis Armstrong turned commercial in the 1930s and didn't make any more breakthrough contributions to jazz, but it's so politically incorrect to point that out, so we'll just show him in every segment of this series, even though he's just doing the same old crap as the last time.

Matt Glaser I'll bet Chuck Yeager was in the audience at the Earle Theater in Philadelphia when Louis was hitting those high Cs, and that's what made him decide to break the sound barrier.

Stanley Crouch And from there go to Pluto.

Wynton Marsalis I'm going to go make some gumbo-

Stanley Crouch BOOM-chick-BOOM-chick-BOOM-chick

Gary Giddy “Do-yap-do-wee-bah-scoot-scoot-dap-dap” ...That's what all the cats were saying back then.

Announcer In 1964, John Coltrane was at his peak, Eric Dolphy was in Europe (where he would eventually die), the Modern Jazz Quartet was making breakthrough recordings in the field of Third Stream Music, Miles Davis was breaking new barrier with his second great quintet, and Charlie Mingus was extending jazz composition to new levels of complexity. But we're going to talk about how Louis sang "Hello Dolly."

Stanley Crouch Louis went, “Ba-ba-yaba-do-do-dee-da-bebin-doo-wap-deet-deet-do-da-da.”

Wynton Marsalis Sweets went, “Scoop-doop-shalaba-yaba-mokey-hokey-bwap-bwap-tee-tee-dee.”

Gary Giddy I go, “Da-da-shoobie-doobie-det-det-det-bap-bap-baaaaa...”

Announcer The next 40 years of jazz history is now being shown. There, that's about it. Now for some scenes from Ken Burns's next documentary, a 97-part epic about the Empire State Building, entitled, "The Empire State Building."

Announcer It is tall and majestic. It is America's building. It is the Empire State Building. Dozens of workers gave their lives in the construction of this building.

Matt Glaser As they fell to their deaths, I think that they were thinking of Louis. I have this fantasy that his high notes inspired the height of the Empire State Building.

Wynton Marsalis Most of the men who fell off the Empire State Building went, "Aaaaaahhhh!" But the cats that heard Louis went, "Dee-dee-daba-da-da-bop-bop-de-dop-shewap-splat!"

Announcer That's next time on PBS. Sponsored by Viewers Like You.

John Grabowski
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