If "Jazz" had been Ken Burns' "Blues"

Sal Stevens bluesprjct@yahoo.com
Thu Feb 1 13:06:23 EST 2001

        On a similar note.... the New Orleans Blues Project recently nominated Walter
"Wolfman" Washington for an NEA Jazz Master Fellowship...a bit of a stretch
perhaps,  but we felt Walter's music has as much jazz as blues....tho he
primarily travels the blues circuit, so we'll see how it comes out... the
outcome should indicate, in some sense, how pervasive  the  jazz vs. blues
thing  is and what some of the preceptions are rearding  separation and purity,
--- Art Schuna <aaschuna@facstaff.wisc.edu> wrote:
> While watching the final episode after having seen the rest
> of the series, I got to wondering what if Ken Burn's "Jazz" had
> been a similar aural and visual history of the blues?  It would seem
> that if Burns had been attempting to use the music as a way of
> commenting on race in America, as he claimed with his 3 part
> triology  (Civil War, Baseball and Jazz), Blues would have been better
> music to base that on.  Like jazz, it originated in this country and was
> a product of African-Americans.  However, it seems the story of
> civil rights struggles of blacks in America would have been a better
> one with a blues-based documentary.  The music's origins are
> African (like jazz), but is also based on
> work songs performed in the cotton fields and elsewhere.  Not too
> many people were playing their horns while toiling in those fields.  Many
> lyrics might have lent themselves to the race in America theme.  "Jazz"
> did have a piece on "Strange Fruit" which probably is as great a song
> about African-American struggles as has been written, but there would
> have been greater breadth of choices in blues.  The story of the history
> of blues would have been as compelling as that told by jazz, maybe
> more so for readers of this list.  The stories of many of the bluesmen and
> women would have been a fascinating commentary on life in America.  The
> civil rights movement of the 60s, the rejection of blues by blacks who turned
> towards R&B and soul and the return in popularity of this music with the
> rediscovery of great pre-war artists and the evolution to the present day
> would make a great story.
> Here's one question that I thought about but wasn't sure I had an answer -
> "Jazz" chose 2 main characters who were there near the beginnings of at
> least the recorded jazz era, Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong.  Who would
> the main characters for a similar "Blues" multi-part documentary?  Muddy
> Waters
> comes to mind but he did not get his start in the documented history of the
> blues
> until about 20 years after the first recording.  He would definitely be an
> important figure
> though.  Son House comes to mind but he is missing a big "middle period".
> His
> influence on seminal figures like Muddy and Robert Johnson are well known
> and his rediscovery had a lot to do with the the resurgence of the blues.
> Henry Townsend comes to mind because he's the only guy I know who has
> recorded all of those decades from the '20s and would still be alive to
> tell his
> story, but he'd probably be considered a lesser figure in the history of
> blues
> (whether or not that reputation is deserved).  Honeyboy Edwards also is a
> lesser
> known figure of the music but  I know from listening to him tell his
> stories before
> a small crowd and reading his book he's got amazing stories to tell and his
> recollection of the details of what happened are fascinating.
> One final thought before I give up this crazy theme for now....  I would
> guess
> that there is far less video footage to base a Blues documentary on than what
> "Jazz" had to work with.  I may be wrong but I'd be curious to see what
> others thought.  My
> guess is there would be a lot more shots panning still photo details....
> Although
> maybe they could include that footage that was said to be Robert Johnson
> playing on a street corner with his moving capo that was discussed here at
> length
> some time ago....  ;-)
> Art

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