Photo Reviews – "Jazz – A History of America's Music" – Geoffrey C Ward & Ken Burns


Chapter 1: America claims to be a melting pot, but part of what makes cooking taste good are the morsels that have kept their flavor, texture and shape. America is diversity in places such as the French Quarter of New Orleans on page 3 of chapter one. We see this morsel clinging in the pot, holding its taste, its flavor-truly French, yet significantly what we claim to be America.

In the scene, we can see both Paris and the Midwest. A beat down main street feel, with horse drawn wagons and bearded men in dusters. Yet in the wrought-iron spires we see Paris. The mood is summed up with the hybrid of Paris and the West in a blacksmith sign proclaiming "Bouchoux."

Chapter 2: It is important to see landmarks such as Louis Armstrong's birthplace (p. 38). This shows how often great hearts and minds come from humble beginnings. Out of poverty comes greatness. It makes one pause and think of what the segregated South he was born into was like in 1901.

The picture, taken in 1963, remind us that time marches on. The "Jax" cola sign shows the era of the corner store, which was a convenience in the 1960's, yet is long gone in the world of today. The fact that the building Armstrong was born in is torn down reminds us to appreciate greatness in its fleeting pass- the pass of greatness such as Armstrong himself. Nothing is permanent.

Chapter 3: In chapter three's picture, we see Louis Armstrong and King Oliver in 1922. It is quite significant to see Armstrong at the age of twenty-one after seeing him in the previous chapter at the age of nineteen. He had been a boy with his mom and sister in chapter two, and now, two years later, he looks significantly more like a man at the right hand of jazz legend King Oliver.

It is also significant to see Oliver and Armstrong in a photo together. Many of us know of Armstrong and how he has inspired so much of the music of today. It is a treat to glimpse upon the shoulders that that giant stand. This generation's teacher stands at the source of his wisdom.

Chapter 4: It is quite a sight to see Atlantic City in 1928 with the Ben Pollack Band. This shows us that jazz has made its way out of the clubs of the south and the ghettos into one of America's most popular resorts at the time. The site of sunbathers and lavish hotels is quite a change from places such as Louis Armstrong's birthplace.

It is also quite impressive to see so many jazz legends together in one place. We have all heard of Benny Goodman. To see him in his twenties is quite significant. I had not even heard of greats such as Jack Teagarden, who, once again, show that the legends I know, such as Goodman, standing upon the shoulders of those of their time.

Chapter 5: I like the caricature of Chick Webb on his bass drum head. While flipping through the book, it caught my eye, which, I imagine, was the drum's purpose on stage. The crown on Webb's head in the caricature gives him a regal look. Webb atop his drums crowns this regal look.

Chick Webb was an important drummer. This picture carries that off. This almost comical brashness of his presence seems to broadcast this importance. The composition of the loud portrait, his toothy grin, and his mean set of drums, speaks of Webb's position as an iconic drummer.

Chapter 6: The fa├žade of the Stanley theater in the 1930's shows how lavish and ornate the palaces of the day were. There has been a move to restore this type of theater and its architecture. It is grand, however, to imagine being when that was the norm. The advertisement of "Scientific air-conditioning" really makes one time travel. We travel to the era of Benny Goodman.

It is significant to see that in the 1930's, Goodman has now broken through as a premier headliner. His name is listed first on the bill of the palace. Again, like Armstrong, I had just seen him in a previous chapter as a twenty-year old. It is funny to call this scene a moment of progress in an age where everything advertised is so by gone. Time marches on.

Chapter 7: It is a very touching picture of the service men sitting around the record player in the field of duty. The soldiers are holding letters. The music must enhance the mood for them imagining their loved ones. A little bit of blues likely stirs their soul.

This scene shows how jazz is and was music for the people. The soldiers' grins show that they refer to the music. Jazz plays both in Atlantic City and in the trenches, not just in the ghettos and clubs. Time has moved onward.

Chapter 8: The picture of Ella Fitzgerald signing in Manhattan is captivating. The light in this picture plays well through. There is a gleaming diamond under her chin, and the spotlight over the audience captures the smoky halo of an intimate club. Just enough light shines on the art on the walls for it to be captivating, yet the art does not upstage Ellington, in the audience, who does not upstage Fitzgerald.

Such an intimate nightclub makes one wish they could be there. I would want to see Fitzgerald, Ellington, or Goodman perform, let alone be with all three of them in the confines of a period nightclub. Imagine sharing a Coke with Duke Ellington while listening to Ella Fitzgerald. Wow. Duke sure looks happy.

Chapter 9: There is a picture of Donald Byrd practicing on the subway. Someone who does something like this is clearly dedicated to his or her craft. I can see he is not concerned with the people around himself. He is one with his instrument.

I often go to McDonald's and sit, meditate and study. This picture reminds me of that. An artist's life is often very lonely. We often want to see and feel what the public's reaction is, even if it is for no pay. Often we take great risks, such as playing trumpet on the subway. This picture makes feel connected to Byrd.

Chapter 10: It comes full circle to see Louis Armstrong playing trumpet with the children in Queens. Now he is the giant upon who shoulders the children stand. It is great to see a man of this stature have time for children. We could only hope that greats could all teach their craft.

At his stage, Armstrong had achieved his fame. We can see that it is in the children that he enjoys life. And the children send this joy back. It is great to see the range of ages of children captivated by music in this picture.