Time Out for "Jazz"
Jude Wanniski
January 9, 2001


Memo To: Website Fans, Browsers, Clients
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Ken Burns’s “PBS” series

The time I set aside last night to write today’s “Memo” just happened to coincide with Part One of the 10-part “Jazz” series by Ken Burns on public television (PBS). I thought I could write and watch at the same time, but I gave up on the writing. If there is anything “On the Margin” today, it is this brilliant work, one of the most absorbing television features I can recall. Knowing Burns’s work, I figured it would be entertaining, but was not prepared for the incandescence. What really made the difference was the running commentary by Wynton Marsalis, the trumpeter, who explained the step-by-step developments of the purely American jazz idiom with his own sound effects. There’s no reason for me to add any more here. Just take my word for it, and if “Jazz” conflicts with your favorite sitcom tonight, tape the sitcom and watch PBS for a treat, knowing a good part of the national family will be tuned in and watching at the same time. Last night’s 90-minute introduction took us through the birth of Jazz in New Orleans, with an accident of history hurling together Creole and Negro musicians and their quite different improvisations to produce a completely new musical path. We learn from Marsalis, by the way, that the word itself comes closest to meaning “procreation.” The original word seems to have been “Jass,” but because wise guys would find the word on circulars and rub out the “J,” someone stopped that practice by turning the two “s’s” to “z’s.” Tonight, the scene shifts to Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, two hours starting at 9 p.m. [EST] and at different hours in the other time zones. We offer a link to Amazon to those who are outside the country and will miss out on this terrific series. I also append a review from the NYTimes that covers the entire series, to further whet your appetite.