The seventh episode in this ten-part miniseries detailing the history of jazz music in America. This installment begins in 1939, as the Great Depression finally ends and young musician Charlie Parker arrives in New York City, awed by the presence of his idol, Art Tatum. Swing remained popular as Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong continued to enjoy success, and in Harlem, Minton's Playhouse gained fame for its creative "jam sessions," for which musicians received free food and drink. The house band featured Thelonious Monk, trumpeter Roy Eldridge and drummer Kenny Clarke, among others, and musicians would often engage in fierce "battles" late into the night. Wynton Marsalis describes the innovate style of John Birks Gillespie, explaining how his daring, unrestrained playing earned him the nickname "Dizzy." He was hired by Cab Calloway, though he soon antagonized the singer with his creative antics and "Chinese music," and he returned to improvising at Minton's. Elsewhere, Charlie Parker's unique phrasing provided the essential "mortar" for his band, and Stanley Crouch explains how the other musicians quickly learned to "go his way." Parker, who took up the saxophone at thirteen, married and divorced young and increased his drug use after a serious car crash, after which he headed to New York. Once there, he made his "great discovery": that he could "fly" with creative notes and then resolve the chord, giving him freedom to improvise in a way that worked within established songs.

Parker returned to Kansas City with his newfound knowledge and earned great fame, as well as his iconic nickname, "Bird." Elsewhere, in Hollywood, Ellington mounted an all-black revue, "Jump For Joy," that frankly addressed racial issues and eschewed blackface and "Uncle Tom" stereotypes. Though it received strong reviews, it ran for only eleven weeks. When America entered World War II in December 1941, jazz and swing suddenly came to represent the country's spirit itself, largely because the genres were filled with persecuted minorities, namely black and Jewish musicians. Blackout, curfews, rations and the draft itself all came to harm the music industry, and a number of prominent bandleaders transferred their talents to the armed forces, including Glenn Miller, whose plane went down in December 1944. Benny Goodman, excused from service for an injury, performed for the USO, and Artie Shaw recalls performing aboard the USS Saratoga. At the same time, Ellington, too old to enlist, continued to record, performed in a weekly radio show to raise war bonds, and entered into a profound and long-lasting "musical marriage" with talented pianist Billy Strayhorn, whose composition "Take the 'A' Train" became an iconic tune associated with Ellington.

Over in Europe, Nazi propaganda master Joseph Goebbels decided to make use of the genre that he had previously denigrated and began broadcasting swing hits with reworked anti-Semitic lyrics. He also created films portraying concentration camps as comfortable "towns" complete with performances by talented jazz musicians – who were sent to Auschwitz after filming. In America, brooding Charlie Parker joined Earl Hines' band and met Gillespie, with whom he enjoyed a highly creative partnership – but the recording industry then came to a halt because of disputes over royalties, and the American public was unable to hear Parker and Gillespie's innovate new style for two years. As the war carried on, black soldiers grew increasingly frustrated by military segregation and the bitter irony of fighting for freedom while being treated as second-class, though many were pleased by performances and hospital visits from Armstrong, also too old to join up. Armstrong and fourth wife Lucille Wilson moved to Queens, though just to the east Harlem was in decline, with the famous Savoy Ballroom padlocked in 1943, in part because of its well-known policy of integration. Tensions flared in the summer, leading to race riots, destruction and several deaths.

As a result, many musicians moved downtown to 52nd Street between 5th and 6th Avenues, known as "Swing Street" for its many cellar clubs. Billie Holiday was considered the "queen" of the block, though her personal unhappiness increased, due to the death of her mother and her own increased drug use. Ellington kept his orchestra together and continued his prolific songwriting, though he was still considered an enigma and a "miraculous jigsaw" by his friends and bandmates. His musicians, all selected for their individual talents, were skilled but undisciplined, and Ellington often provoked rivalries between them to increase their hard work and drive. Tenor saxophonist Ben "The Brute" Webster was well-known as a troublemaker, but his exceptional talents prompted Ellington to write the famous "Cotton Tail" specifically for him. Ellington then wrote "Black, Brown and Beige," a daring 44-minute piece in three movements detailing the history of the black American experience, and its January 1943 debut at Carnegie Hall raised thousands for the war relief. Pianist Dave Brubeck describes shipping out in 1944 and avoiding a spot at the front thanks to his exceptional musical skills, though his integrated band narrowly escaped death several times. Upon returning to America after the end of the war, his black companions were again treated with blatant discrimination despite having served bravely, and Shaw emotionally describes his father's lessons to him about racism. Parker and Gillespie finally recorded together in 1945, and the public was "shocked" by their unique, creative playing on "Ko-Ko."

This program also contains a brief interview with film colorist John J. Dowdell III, who describes his work on the "Jazz" project as "a lot of fun."


  • DATE: xxxx/12/03 9:00 PM
  • RUNNING TIME: 1:56:47
  • COLOR/B&W: Color
  • CATALOG ID: B:74600
  • GENRE: Education/Information
  • SUBJECT HEADING: African-American Collection - Music
  • SERIES RUN: PBS - TV series, 2001
  • COMMERCIALS: TV - Commercials - General Motors products^TV - Commercials - "Jazz" series home video, CD set and book


  • Ken Burns … Executive Producer, Director
  • Pam Tubridy Baucom … Coordinating Producer
  • Lynn Novick … Producer
  • Victoria Gohl … Co-Producer
  • Peter Miller … Co-Producer
  • Sarah Botstein … Associate Producer
  • Natalie Bullock Brown … Associate Producer
  • Shola Lynch … Associate Producer
  • Karen Kenton … Associate Producer
  • Madison Davis Lacy … Consulting Producer
  • Geoffrey C. Ward … Writer
  • Keith David … Narrator
  • Samuel L. Jackson … Voice
  • Delroy Lindo … Voice
  • Courtney B. Vance … Voice
  • Keith Lee Grant … Voice
  • Bruce Davison … Voice
  • Philip Bosco … Voice
  • Gary Giddins … Interviewee
  • Wynton Marsalis … Interviewee
  • Stanley Crouch … Interviewee
  • Artie Shaw … Interviewee
  • Mercedes Ellington … Interviewee
  • Dave Brubeck … Interviewee
  • John J. Dowdell III … Interviewee
  • Louis Armstrong
  • Kenny Clarke
  • Cab Calloway
  • Miles Davis
  • Roy Eldridge
  • Duke Ellington
  • Dizzy Gillespie (see also: John Birks Gillespie)
  • Joseph Goebbels
  • Benny Goodman
  • Teddy Hill
  • Billie Holiday
  • Earl Hines
  • Glenn Miller
  • Thelonious Monk
  • Charlie Parker
  • Billy Strayhorn
  • Art Tatum
  • Ben Webster
  • Lucille Wilson