“Put it this way: Jazz is a good barometer of freedom… In its beginnings, the United States of America spawned certain ideals of freedom and independence through which, eventually, jazz was evolved, and the music is so free that many people say it is the only unhampered, unhindered expression of complete freedom yet produced in this country.”
—Duke Ellington [1899–1974]
Jazz, a documentary mini-series (10 parts, each two hours long), directed by Ken Burns and narrated by Keith David, was first broadcast on PBS-TV in 2001 (January 8 to January 31, 2001). This is a clip from Part 1. The series chronicles the history of Jazz in the United States, beginning in 1917. While Jazz might have had outside influences, it is considered quintessential American music, since the social and economic conditions that shaped the lives of its major artists gave rise to the music known as American Jazz. At its core is freedom to be. Of the many prejudices that society holds and normalizes, prejudice against the poor is universal, a stigma of disapproval, a condemnation of “human failure,” which in the end becomes a condemnation of the person. Period. Being Poor (“Born Poor, Staying Poor”) has long been viewed in America (and also, but to a somewhat lesser extent, in Canada) as a Moral Failing. So in comes Jazz, the soothing balm for the common people, for the individuals ignored, set aside, shut out and shut in. Jazz is not elitist, even though it has become so in some circles, which, quite tellingly, is the direct opposite of Jazz’s early and humble beginnings—its roots, so to speak. No doubt, such is something worth remembering.