The InsiderOne Daily Report

  Thursday, January 11, 2001

The Sound Of Jazz

InsiderOne's Michael Goldberg writes: I've only seen the first episode of Ken Burns' "Jazz" series, but the opener pretty much hit a home run as far as I was concerned. I'm no jazz expert, not by a long shot, so if Burns is off with some of the details, I wouldn't know. As far as music documentaries go — and I am something of an expert on those — this one is first-rate. I didn't expect to dig it when I turned it on; I came in already put off by the unavoidable marketing campaign. For weeks now, it's felt like everywhere I turned, some piece of "Jazz" marketing was in my face — the huge display at Tower Records, the CDs on the counter at Starbucks, a recent cover of the San Francisco Chronicle Sunday entertainment section, two or three pieces in the New York Times, and even the email that arrived Monday night, shortly before the first episode aired, hyping both the show and the Amazon "Jazz" CD deals. It was enough to make anyone wish they'd never hear the name "Ken Burns" or the word "jazz" again — at least not in close proximity. But despite the hype, Burns delivers the goods: the story of Jelly Roll Morton, the whorehouse piano player who was one of the music's early innovators; the episode's effortless movement from detailing America's societal changes to showing how they led to the creation and growth of jazz. Burns uses music, narration, interviews, still photos and great film clips in a powerful, insightful way. New Orleans' passage of racist laws made not only African-Americans but also Creoles second-class citizens, who could not perform in orchestras or bands with whites, he tells us. Ironically, this led Creole musicians to join African-American jazz bands, which furthered the music's evolution. This series is already getting folks into the history of jazz, but more importantly, the show made me (and I'm sure plenty of others) want to go get some Jelly Roll Morton recordings. I think before "Jazz" concludes, a lot of people are going to get way into music with which they previously were only vaguely familiar. That is truly a good thing.

Datastream: Josh Joplin is a singer, songwriter and bandleader; his voice will remind you of Michael Stipe. He fronts the Josh Joplin Group, and their debut album, Useful Music, will be released Jan. 23 on the Artemis label (they also gave us Steve Earle's excellent Transcendental Blues). Joplin, according to his bio, split school at 16 and hit the road to write and sing songs, inspired by Phil Ochs and Minor Threat. I like this lyric from "Phil Ochs": "Our surveys say, this is what they want today/ Our surveys say, the kids all want Sugar Ray/ Phil you can't be killed."... If you've never heard Forever Changes by the '60s L. A. rock band Love, you'll have a chance, come Feb. 23, to dig a remastered version of what is both a period piece and a true classic. The new release will include seven "bonus tracks." A New York Times report on research presented in the latest issue of the journal Science has this to say: The love of music "is not only a universal feature of the human species, found in every society known to anthropology, but is also deeply embedded in multiple structures of the human brain, and is far more ancient than previously suspected." Hey, I coulda told 'em that. How else to account for those cave drawings of Prince's famous symbol?

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Michael Goldberg is the president of He founded Addicted To Noise in 1994.

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