Reflections on Ken Burns’s JAZZ, Episode 1

Reflections on Ken Burns’s JAZZ, Episode 1

After starting to blog for the Yoko Miwa Trio, I felt inspired to learn more about jazz history. I wanted to hear the jazz while I learned about it, so I turned to the documentary JAZZ, by Ken Burns. In this series of posts, I’ll share my thoughts as I journey through some of the crucial decades in jazz history.

The film JAZZ starts in New Orleans in the late 1800’s. Historians don’t all agree that New Orleans was the birthplace of jazz, but they agree on the musical influences. Ragtime emerged from minstrel shows, Black spirituals, and European-American folk. Around the same time, the blues came to life as a secular reinvention of Baptist hymns. JAZZ shows the two styles colliding in the music halls and nightclubs of New Orleans, a simplified but powerful narrative that brings together the forces that shaped the music.

The story of jazz is a story of American history. I never knew that brass was introduced to jazz by former Civil War military bands, or that popular music in New Orleans saw an infusion of musicians from Creole orchestras after racial segregation laws classified mixed-race Creoles as Black.

JAZZ shows how cultural exchange first made jazz happen, and this is true of the Yoko Miwa Trio, as well. Yoko moved from Japan to study at Berklee, which has students from more than eighty countries. All About Jazz has said of her, “She can play the blues as if she came from the South.” The Trio’s latest CD, “Live at Scullers Jazz Club,” includes a cover of A Festa, by the beloved Brazilian singer, songwriter, and guitarist Milton Nascimento.

I hope you’ll follow along as I continue to watch – and listen to – JAZZ.

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