Jazz: A History of America's Music

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The companion volume to the ten-part PBS TV series by the team responsible forThe Civil War and Baseball. Continuing in the tradition of their critically acclaimed works, Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns vividly bring to life the story of the quintessential American music—jazz. Born in the black community of turn-of-the-century New Orleans but played from the beginning by musicians of every color, jazz celebrates all Americans at their best. Here are the stories of the extraordinary men and women who made the ...

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The companion volume to the ten-part PBS TV series by the team responsible forThe Civil War and Baseball. Continuing in the tradition of their critically acclaimed works, Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns vividly bring to life the story of the quintessential American music—jazz. Born in the black community of turn-of-the-century New Orleans but played from the beginning by musicians of every color, jazz celebrates all Americans at their best. Here are the stories of the extraordinary men and women who made the music: Louis Armstrong, the fatherless waif whose unrivaled genius helped turn jazz into a soloist's art and influenced every singer, every instrumentalist who came after him; Duke Ellington, the pampered son of middle-class parents who turned a whole orchestra into his personal instrument, wrote nearly two thousand pieces for it, and captured more of American life than any other composer. Bix Beiderbecke, the doomed cornet prodigy who showed white musicians that they too could make an important contribution to the music; Benny Goodman, the immigrants' son who learned the clarinet to help feed his family, but who grew up to teach a whole country how to dance; Billie Holiday, whose distinctive style routinely transformed mediocre music into great art; Charlie Parker, who helped lead a musical revolution, only to destroy himself at thirty-four; and Miles Davis, whose search for fresh ways to sound made him the most influential jazz musician of his generation, and then led him to abandon jazz altogether. Buddy Bolden, Jelly Roll Morton, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Tatum, Count Basie, Dave Brubeck, Artie Shaw, and Ella Fitzgerald are all here; so are Sidney Bechet, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, and a host of others. But Jazz is more than mere biography. The history of the music echoes the history of twentieth-century America. Jazz provided the background for the giddy era that F. Scott Fitzgerald called the Jazz Age. The irresistible pulse of big-band swing lifted the spirits and boosted American morale during the Great Depression and World War II. The virtuosic, demanding style called bebop mirrored the stepped-up pace and dislocation that came with peace. During the Cold War era, jazz served as a propaganda weapon—and forged links with the burgeoning counterculture. The story of jazz encompasses the story of American courtship and show business; the epic growth of great cities—New Orleans and Chicago, Kansas City and New York—and the struggle for civil rights and simple justice that continues into the new millennium.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Our Review
All That Jazz
Sure, Jazz: A History of America's Music, is lushly illustrated, each page displaying a photograph more rare than the one preceding it. Sure, even the most ardent jazz enthusiast will find information and images in the companion book to the upcoming PBS series that would make him or her salivate. But treat Jazz as a coffee-table book at your own risk: As soon as guests get their hands on this highly readable book, you can kiss conversation goodbye!

The award-winning team of Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns -- whose past efforts brought Baseball and The Civil War to life -- weave the stories of myriad musicians, personalities, styles, and schools into an engaging and singularly American tale. The result is a thoroughly entertaining tribute to ingenuity, creativity, and good ol' American music.

Beginning at the dawn of the 20th century, the narrative traces the path of jazz from its birth in New Orleans gumbo and its progression through big band, swing, bebop, fusion, acid, and avant-garde. The unifying aspect of this sprawling account is provided by the musicians, whose stories are really the saga's heart and soul. Of course, greats like Jelly Roll Morton, Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and others are given ample attention. Their life stories and extraordinary contributions to the music are recounted with a mix of reverence and affection.

But the pages of Jazz are also populated by a roster of supporting players -- musicians and singers whose names and music might be recognizable but whose legacy is slight in comparison to acknowledged masters like Satchmo, Bird, and Lady Day. Their stories add a level of accessibility to the book and to the music. They remind the reader that jazz is for everyone -- not just the masters, not just the elite. And this message of accessibility is the defining mark of Jazz, both the book and the TV series.

Contributions from such renowned jazz authorities as Gary Giddins, Albert Murray, Stanley Crouch, and Gerald Early are an added treat.

With Jazz: A History of America's Music, Ward and Burns not only succeed in documenting one of America's finest artistic achievements in engaging prose and priceless illustrations; they also triumph in bringing this art form to life and making it available for all to hear, appreciate, and stamp their feet to. Jazz is a remarkably joyous celebration of America's aptitude for change and discovery and of our music.

--Karen Burns

Publishers Weekly
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. Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A companion volume to the new Burns and Ward documentary, 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 smugness 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 not touch upon 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. (Nov. 6) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
As a stand-alone volume, this fluidly written and visually satisfying book is highly recommended for all public libraries and for all academic libraries looking for an excellent general history of the musical genre. As a companion to Burns's 19-hour PBS television series of the same name, it is an essential purchase. The authors, who previously collaborated on Baseball and The Civil War (also companions to Burns's films), have assembled a comprehensive history with a focus on the musicians and the sociology of jazz. Those looking for a highly technical, theoretical study of the music will have to look elsewhere, as this book, containing no notated musical examples and using little technical musical language, is clearly intended for the general public and for fans of jazz. However, this guide is so well written, well researched, and probing of the complex relationship between jazz and American society that even professional musicians and musicologists will find something of interest. The short articles by Wynton Marsalis, Dan Morgenstern, Gerald Early, Stanley Crouch, and Gary Giddins, which are woven into the text, provide a more specific focus on a number of jazz's aspects. While this reviewer suspects that a fair number of patrons will turn to public libraries for the documentary and purchase the book themselves, the acquisition of Jazz will undoubtedly and deservedly boost circulation statistics.--James E. Perone, Mount Union Coll., Alliance, OH Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-A companion to Ken Burns's television series, this will be a welcome addition. Hundreds of photographs, a few of the more recent in color, but mostly in black and white, will draw teens into this wonderful introduction to an American art form. The images alone are worth the price. Many have never been published before. However, the detailed text is a resource for both the history of jazz and the people who developed it. Arranged chronologically, the work shows how music reflects the culture and events of its time. The reciprocal is also true; the events of the 20th century from boom, depression, and war are shown in the music of the period. Given the ethnic roots of jazz, this history also includes the roles of racist economic hardships. Although the emphasis is on the beginning years from the Creoles of color in New Orleans through Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Duke Ellington, and Sarah Vaughan, to name only a few, the current status is not forgotten; a photo of Wynton Marsalis concludes the book. The biographical details of first-person memories will be of interest to report writers. An outstanding resource.-Claudia Moore, W. T. Woodson High School, Fairfax, VA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
From The Critics
Jazz: A History Of America's Music provides a lavishly illustrated history of jazz music, from its roots in the black community to its rise as an American musical art form. Civil rights struggles, business and community relationships and musical style alike were all affected by the rise of jazz music: Jazz: A History of America's Music provides an outstanding visual and text coverage of the genre.
David Nasaw
Jazz, judged on its own terms, must be accounted a success. It will introduce generations of readers who know nothing about jazz to an essential part of their American heritage. It will prompt those of us who know a little to return to our music stores, clubs and concert halls to rediscover musical gems we had long forgotten.
New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375417627
  • Publisher: Random House Audio Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/6/2007
  • Format: MP3
  • Edition description: Abridged
  • Ships to U.S.and APO/FPO addresses only.

Meet the Author

Geoffrey C. Ward is the author of 11 books, including A First-Class Temperament, which won the 1989 National Books Critics Cirlce Award and the 1990 Francis Parkman Prize. He has written for numerous documentary films, including The Civil War, Baseball, The West, and Not for Ourselves Alone, and is a frequent magazine contributor. He lives in New York City.

Ken Burns, founder of Florentine Films, is a director, producer, and writer who has been making documentaries for more than 15 years. His landmark film, The Civil War, is the highest-rated series in the history of American public television, and his work has received or been nominated for Grammy, Emmy, and Academy Awards, among others. He lives in Walpole, New...

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Read an Excerpt

From Chapter Six: The Velocity of Celebration 1936-1939

The Energy It Takes

Benny Goodman's favorite orchestra was Duke Ellington's, he said, both because "the flavor of Duke's music is entirely different than anything else in jazz," and because his soloists seemed to have such a deep personal commitment to what they were playing.

For his part, Duke Ellington rarely complained about Goodman's coronation by the press as "The King of Swing" or the enormous popularity of the new, mostly white bands that followed in his wake. After all, Ellington had written the tune that gave the new music its name--"It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing"--three years before Goodman hit it big at the Palomar, and he didn't much like the term, himself. "Jazz is music," he said. "Swing is business."

Ellington continued on his own independent course, refusing as always to be categorized. By doing so, Rex Stewart remembered, "he could stand above his contemporaries . . . in the manner of a god descending from Olympian heights. And why not?" Stewart continued. "He had removed himself. Let the world catch up."

When hits for the full orchestra proved few and far between, he formed small groups within his band, just as Benny Goodman did, and wrote or arranged some 140 pieces to showcase his stars. Other bands would eventually follow suit: Tommy Dorsey's Clambake Seven; Bob Crosby's Bob Cats; Woody Herman's Four Chips; Artie Shaw and his Gramercy Five; Chick Webb and His Little Chicks. Ellington also tried having two basses for a time, to give his band a little extra lift; and he continued to experiment with longer forms, as well, most notably a two-part piece called "Diminuendo in Blue" and "Crescendo in Blue" that took up both sides of a 78. "Like all of our compositions," he said, these pieces "concern themselves with capturing and revealing the emotional spirit of the Race."

Eventually, there were new popular hits, as well--Juan Tizol's "Caravan," "I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart," "Prelude to a Kiss," "Jeep's Blues." And again and again--in Dallas and Chicago and Memphis and half a dozen other towns--Ellington and his men found themselves playing theaters and ballrooms that had previously been closed to black bands. When an overly familiar interviewer asked Ellington how he felt about the fact that he could neither dine nor stay in some of the hotels in which his band played, Ellington characteristically deflected the question. "I took the energy it takes to pout," he said, "and wrote some blues."

Benny Goodman was not the only white bandleader to revere Ellington. No one admired him more than Charlie Barnet, and when he opened at a club on New York's Fifty-second Street Barnet invited him down to hear his men play Ellington's music. Ellington hesitated. The club did not normally welcome black patrons, and he asked Helen Oakley, now in Manhattan and working for Irving Mills, to scout the territory on his behalf. "Duke was terribly careful, extremely careful about what he called 'situations,' " she remembered. "He never got into situations. Fifty-second Street was making all their money on black talent and keeping out black customers. But they told me that they would be very pleased if Duke Ellington would come. They'd have a table ready." Ellington asked her, " 'Is it all right?' " she remembered, "and I told him, 'Yes, yes it was.' And it was all right. They received him at the door and they had a special table and Charlie was in seventh heaven." Ellington sat quietly, sipping his drink and smiling appreciatively as Barnet and...

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Table of Contents

Preface vii
Gumbo: Beginnings to 1907                 1
The Gift: 1907--1917              37
The Jazz Age: 1917--1924              63
Our Language: 1925--1929              123
Hard, Hard Times: 1929--1935              173
The Velocity of Celebration: 1936--1939 233
Dedicated to Chaos: 1940--1945              281
Risk: 1945--1950                            333
The Adventure: 1950--1960              369
A Masterpiece by Midnight: 1960 to the Present                427
Acknowledgments                            463
Selected Bibliography                            465
Index                                          470
Text Permissions                            487
Illustration Credits                            489
Film Credits                            490
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November 2000

Jazz: A History of America's Music

Award-winning team Ken Burns and Geoffrey C. Ward bring you Jazz: A History of America's Music, the companion book to the 19-hour PBS television series airing in January of 2001. With more than 500 illustrations and contributions by Stanley Crouch and Wynton Marsalis among others, Jazz, like the music itself, is a stunning exploration and celebration of the American experience that can stand alone or be considered in conjunction with the television program. In addition, Sony will release a special series of reissues, culminating in the five-CD box set, Ken Burns' Jazz: The Story of America's Music.

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Interviews & Essays

A Conversation with Ken Burns

Barnes & Noble.com: In your documentaries, you've covered the Civil War and baseball, and now jazz, which of course are three really American points of reference. In what ways do you think these pastimes or events affect our sense of nationality or our sense of cultural identity?

Ken Burns: Well, I think all the films I've been involved with -- ranging beyond even the ones you've mentioned -- offer an opportunity to understand, to get to the beating heart of the American experience. And I think jazz, in some ways, is the most perfect model because it's the only art form that Americans have invented and the arts demand an involvement not just of the head, but of the heart as well. And so I think what you find in jazz is access, not only to the important benchmarks of American history -- that is to say that jazz is a wonderful window through which we can see what's gone on in the last hundred years -- but jazz also demands a more precise investigation into the heart of who we are as a people. All of these great subjects reward study tremendously. But for me as a filmmaker and me as an individual, nothing has been more satisfying than jazz.

B&N.com: Did you find that jazz was naturally the next topic you wanted to examine or was it through a personal affinity for the music that you came to jazz as a subject?

KB: It was very much a natural thing. I had run a record store back in the late '60s in Ann Arbor, Michigan. And jazz was stuff I knew, but it wasn't my music. I was a fan of rock 'n' roll and R&B. But as I was working on Baseball, I began to realize that that film, which I saw as a sequel to The Civil War, a way to understand what we'd become after the Civil War, naturally led to jazz. And that what I was working on was a trilogy of American life that's now occupied 17 years of my life. So it's been a really important ride for me as an artist and as an individual. I had no real prior knowledge of jazz other than I knew the basic canon but this investigation has been extremely exciting. I mean, we're not dealing with homework here. We're dealing with a really exciting subject: This is about skippin' school and having fun.

B&N.com: Are you a converted fan now?

KB: Very much so! Because I think you begin to realize, as you survey the landscape of American popular music, that jazz is the underground aquifer that feeds all of the strains: rock and soul and R&B and rap and hip-hop and pop. And so you realize that by returning to jazz, it's returning home. It's an extremely satisfying oasis.

B&N.com: Are the book and the series perfectly synchronized or are there specific things about each that are unique?

KB: I think both. They certainly are synchronized, in so far as the book reflects on paper the essence of what our series is. But because it's on paper, because it's something you can hold in your hand and you, as the reader, can determine the pace at which you receive the information, it's a whole 'nother animal and permits us to do stuff we weren't able to do in the film. There are stories, there are even images, that don't appear in the film that we were allowed to develop and explore. Conversely, there are things in the film that the book can't do. So we think that they're very much related and very much complementary, but at the same time they're stand-alone pieces that we think, quite obviously in film this will be the most definitive piece ever done on jazz, but even in the book world we don't think there's a single one-stop place where you can get a cogent, I think beautifully written (by Geoff Ward) history of jazz along with lavish best-of photography of jazz.

B&N.com: The illustrations are really spectacular. Did you have access to special private archives?

KB: Yes, both the film and the book reflect literally years of investigative study trying to unearth that rare photograph, that rare image, that speaks not only to jazz but to the era and the country that produced this music. We've had the cooperation of the great art photographers of jazz like Herman Leonard and Lee Tanner. We've had the cooperation of jazz musicians who've opened their collections. We've gone to the great public repositories and we've dug deep to find those private collectors who've been kind enough to share with us the fruits of their lifetimes of collection activities. We think, in every way, the film and the book represent the highest level of visual scholarship you're going to find with regard to jazz.

B&N.com: In the book, you really go into the very roots of jazz, which is so rooted in the African-American experience. But I feel like in recent years it's become sort of an elitist music that requires some kind of knowledge. Can you speak to this?

KB: That's the big impression that jazz gives off. You know the comic strip Peanuts? There's a character there named Pig Pen that walks around with a perpetual cloud of dust obscuring him. And I think, for the last 40 or 50 years, the jazz community has been sort of arguing over minutiae among themselves -- or what seems to the rest of us like minutiae -- and as a result of this, they give the rest of us the impression that jazz is some sort of elitist music that you have to have some sort of advanced degree, be part of the literati to get it, and nothing could be further from the truth. This is a music born out of the most basic human and American impulses there are. And so it is about a joyous body response. It's about sex. It's about how men and women communicate to each other. And what I've done is, though I have engaged the best people in the jazz community to tell this story, I didn't make this for the jazz community. I made it for everybody else, including myself. And so I would say to anybody who thinks somehow that jazz is a difficult music, that they can't get with it, give us a chance, watch the series, read the book, listen to the accompanying soundtracks, and I guarantee you will have your head turned around, as it was for me. I was not a fan of jazz music. Six years ago I had a huge, vast CD collection in which only a handful of the CDs were jazz, and rarely listened to. Now that's all I listen to and I can't find the rest of my collection, jazz has so come to dominate it. And not because I've been a student of it and have been trained in the esoteric ways, but because I realized that the jazz community has done itself a supreme disservice by creating the impression that this is some sort of elitist music, like classical, that requires some advanced education. It does not. It needs merely to be listened to. I give you an example: Louis Armstrong once said, "There ain't but two kinds of music in this world. Good music and bad music. And good music is you can tap your feet to it." While I was editing this film, we would invite lots of people who hadn't seen anything into the editing room to watch. And I didn't let go of any episode until everybody was tapping their feet. We shared episodes with retired people, with African Americans -- who do not make up the largest segment of the jazz audience now -- with young people (I have two teenage daughters), with all sorts of people and everybody, to a person, thinks that not only is this my best work, but they're going to go out and buy some jazz records right now.

B&N.com: In the book, it's mentioned that rivals would walk into clubs and challenge Louis Armstrong to trumpet-playing contests. And cutting contests would come about between other musicians in which the goal would be to blow as hard as Louis. Do you think that kind of emphasis on virtuosity ended with Miles Davis and other modern artists who explored modes and moods rather than virtuosity?

KB: No, I don't think so. I think what we find in jazz is a kind of ever-shifting interest. So in some eras, it's placing the premium on that kind of virtuosity for which I can find no better example than Louis Armstrong, but other people come to mind like Charlie Parker or Coleman Hawkins. Later on, it seems to be about mood or some interior conversation that could be set up. And today, with all the different sort of tributaries of jazz, you could almost find that out. You could hop from one club to another in a town where there's a couple of different jazz things going on and hear all of that. Jazz is always about experimenting. I mean, if you think about our country, we have in our creed, in the second sentence of the Declaration, this wonderful phrase: "the pursuit of happiness." As if Americans don't have to define what happiness is, they just have to remember that they're in pursuit of it. We're always searching, we're restless, and experimenting. Our genius is, in fact, for improvisation. Our Constitution is four pieces of paper…just four pieces of paper! And it's able to run this huge, huge country of ours pretty well. So too, the only art form that Americans have invented is based on this genius of improvisation. I'm not going to play what's on the page. I'm going to play what I feel. I'm going to tell you who I am, and you're going to tell me who you are, and we're going to negotiate our agendas. And that's democracy and jazz music and that's what we do. Now, sometimes the agenda calls for virtuosity, sometimes it calls for a more lyrical interior dialogue or conversation, but all of those are equally American, all of those are equally democratic if they're done in the right spirit, and all of those could be jazz if we're speaking on a musical level.

B&N.com: It might be easy to generalize the background of the musicians without knowing much about them. To assume that they are mainly from poor, urban backgrounds. But quite to the contrary, you have figures like Duke Ellington and Miles Davis who grew up in relative comfort. So if background is not the thread that runs through this line of great jazz musicians, what is?

KB: I think it's this risk. I think it's this willingness to place all of your chips on one number. It's not about gambling, but it's about saying, "I wish to be, in this moment, who I am, who I truly am, and I'm willing to risk everything to find that out." And it may be that poverty provides people with this opportunity to struggle, to affirm in the face of adversity, that jazz is so much about. But then, in the example of Duke Ellington or Miles Davis, you have people soaring to heights who've had a comfortable upbringing. I think it's an internal spiritual disposition that allows people to act out, at least in a musical sense, the possibilities of our democratic society. I would say to anybody whose curious what it means to be an American, that you can't ever be satisfied unless you've at least studied jazz along with all the other things. I think the Civil War is important. I think it's important to know about our national pastime. And the reason why I consider this a trilogy, is because I can think of no subjects more important to understanding who we are than coming at it from this particular perspective, now, with Jazz.

B&N.com: The book and the series are both so sprawling. Were there some areas that you had to leave out?

KB: Oh, of course, these are far from encyclopedic. In fact, we made every effort not to be. We set as our mission, in both the film and the book, to tell a few emblematic stories well, rather than to try to be encyclopedic and tell none well. Because there are so many thousands of jazz individuals that you have to decide. And you end up leaving stuff out that is certainly worthy to get in because you want to tell a coherent narrative. We're aiming not at the literati but at ordinary people. I want that little old lady in Dubuque tapping her feet, which I know she'll be able to do watching the series or reading the book.

B&N.com: How on earth did you choose the music when there's such a wealth of music to choose from? Did you handpick the music that accompanies the series?

KB: You bet we did! We listened to literally thousands and thousands of pieces of music to find the 498 separate pieces of music and the 530 music cues throughout the series. Nearly 500 pieces of music, to boil it down, and then with our accompanying soundtracks, we've got that down to a 5-CD set and 22 Best of Artists, in addition to a single CD, which has 20 tunes, which are for the people who just want to dip their toe in jazz. It is a swinging, you-can't-put-it-down piece of music. But, boy, it took all six years for us to be in a position to know what music to put in and what to leave out.

B&N.com: Did you seek any advice from any of the wonderful jazz experts you consulted on the series?

KB: Oh, at every step of the way. You know the jazz community is really contentious and argumentative. We probably couldn't have assembled our board of advisers in one room without a fistfight breaking out. That doesn't mean we didn't talk to them every day. Asking them, "What's the best recording?" "What's the best of this?" "Is it okay to leave this person out?" "What if we do leave this person out -- how bad is it?" "We're using this recording. Is there a better one?" And they would tell us and point us in directions and then, to our total excitement, many of the great jazz archives have come to us and said, "Where'd you get that picture of our guy? We've never seen that before." Or some of our consultants would say, "What recording is that?" Along the way, we'd find something that we liked, and we realized that it worked well, and we'd put it in and they'd learn. So we felt that, at that moment, we were on the right track.

B&N.com: There's a very interesting quote from The Amsterdam News in the book. It says, "The Negro has a definite place in swing music. To originate, not to profit." Do you think that statement sums up the history of jazz music or does it just apply to the '40s, which is the context in which it was written?

KB: No, I think it applies across the board to the history of jazz music, but I think it's not the full story. What it's acknowledging is that there has always been -- particularly in a society that is mostly white -- that the people who are going to end up selling the most records in jazz are going to be the white swing guys, like the Benny Goodmans and the Artie Shaws, after acknowledging -- both of them more than anybody else -- where the music came from, which was the black community. I mean, Benny Goodman wouldn't be the King of Swing if he hadn't had these wonderful arrangements from Fletcher Henderson, a black bandleader who had fallen on some hard times during the Depression. He used to hold forth from Roseland, and he sold some of his arrangements to Benny Goodman, and Benny Goodman took off like a rocketship after that. So I think it's a more complicated story than simply saying it's about white exploitation of a black-originated music. I think the great genius of jazz is that, though it was born in the African-American community, it is American music. So it can be played by anyone, and because our ideals are so exportable, jazz is as exportable as our ideals. And that is why we see its flourishing around the world, particularly in the world's darkest moments, like World War II. It was jazz that flourished underground during the Nazi occupation of Europe and helped to provide a small glimmer of hope, a small ray of light, amidst all that oppressive darkness. It's too simple and too easy to say this is merely a story of white exploitation of music that's black, but in fact, a very complicated dynamic in which race plays an important part. But you could turn it around and you could say that, for the first time in human history, white people were going to black people and saying, "You are my mentor. I need to learn from you." And that's what's happened with Benny, and with Bix Beiderbecke and others, who basically realized that they had to go against everything a segregated society was telling them about the worth of black people and realize that the source of inspiration for them was this music that black people had invented. That's a great and positive story if you turn it around. And, in fact, once the swing era was over, only a couple of bands managed to stay alive and on the road, and the two most prominent bands were black ones: Duke Ellington and Count Basie. Which tells you that the resiliency, once again, resides with those original founders.

B&N.com: What about women in jazz music? You've got Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday, and in more modern times you've got women such as Cassandra Wilson. What role have women played?

KB: Well, I think it's very nice to sit here and talk, as jazz has done for more than a century, about it being a kind of democratic expression. But with the exception of these superb female vocalists -- and they are superb and some of the greatest artists in jazz -- it's been mainly a male bastion. So in this case it has, for worse and not for better, reflected who we have been as a society, which is essentially a male-dominated society. The good news is that in the last 25 years or so, as we've seen our own larger society begin to change, however reluctantly, we're seeing a flood of women artists who are beginning to change that definition.

B&N.com: So you don't think jazz will continue to be dominated by males in the future?

KB: Well, if you look at our political situation, you could say, "Yep, there have been no female presidents." But we know that's changing. We know that at some point we're going to have a female president and, I think, within a relatively short period of time. So too, I think the male grip on jazz is loosening, the fraternity is being broken up a bit. And you're going to see more and more virtuoso stars and instrumentalists who aren't just singing, but are playing their instruments and are making a huge difference in jazz, and that can only bode well for the music and the rest of us.

B&N.com: And it must an exciting time to really be in the thick of it.

KB: I think it is, because the very thing that prompts the kind of negative outlook that we talked about at the beginning of our conversation -- that jazz is an esoteric music that only the literati know about or the "jazzerati" -- it also shows that it's going in lots of different directions and asking lots of different questions of itself. And it may be off-putting to some people, but it's really good that it's restless and it's experimenting and struggling, and there are factions. That's terrific! The argument about fusion, that's been raging since the late '60s, has been a fascinating one. You have some of the most important people in jazz saying, "This is not jazz," and other people at the height of jazz saying, "This is the future of jazz." That's exciting.

B&N.com: After working for so long on the series, you've surely developed some favorites. Can you tell us some of them?

KB: Well, I think you can't not mention Louis Armstrong. This is the centennial of his birth, and we're struggling to understand even today his extraordinary contribution. It's so funny because most of us, me included when I began this project, see him as this kind of big guy with a winning smile and a handkerchief, singing popular songs. And little do you suspect that he may be the most important person in music -- not just jazz, in music -- in 20th century America because of his virtuoso playing, and because of his singing, which influenced all other singers that came after him. It's sometimes hard to recognize revolutionaries well after the fact, when everybody's doing it. But the first time that person plays that note a little bit before that note's supposed to be played or a little bit afterwards, or plays with such force and bravura, or sings in such an extraordinarily new way that now everybody sings that way, it's hard to recognize them as the pioneer. But Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday, Jon Hendricks and Mildred Bailey would all say that the most important influence on their singing was Louis Armstrong. Every musician. And we got no argument from all of our consultants, who argue about everything, that Louis Armstrong's the most important person in the history of jazz music, if not American music in the 20th century -- that's a stunning thing to discover. And then you find out that he has a personality that's so large, and so winning, and so wonderful, that it's just terrifically influential. So him, and Ellington, and Charlie Parker for all his tragedy and genius, Miles Davis for all his sensitivity and aloofness and genius, these people are as important in our cultural lives as the men on Mount Rushmore are on our political lives.

B&N.com: You speak of Baseball and The Civil War and Jazz as a trilogy. What's next for you?

KB: Well, I'm working on a history right now of Mark Twain to accompany a whole series of biographies I'm doing that began with Thomas Jefferson and Lewis and Clark, and continue with Frank Lloyd Wright and last year's dual biography of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. So Twain is up next.

B&N.com: Well, thanks so much for your time!

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