Journey Through American Music Episode 3: Sounds of Jazz

2008 • 0h 46m

Episode 3 of a musical journey through the origins of American music presented by Morgan Freeman. Each episode mixes documentary and performance whilst retracing the roots of American music and features performances at Montreux from such legendary artists as Muddy Waters, Ray Charles, Miles Davis, Al Green, Carlos Santana, and Eric Clapton.

Jazz was perhaps the first great American art form of the 20th century. In this informative and enthralling program, award-winning actor Morgan Freeman tells the story of the first few decades of jazz, beginning at the mouth of the Mississippi in the city widely acknowledged as its birthplace, New Orleans. We follow jazz’s journey from its origins as a mixture of African, Classical European, and blues ingredients; through the great Dixieland days of Louis Armstrong and King Oliver to the swing and big band eras of Duke Ellington and Count Basie when it became the most popular music in the country.

The musical trip then continues to take in the explosion of bebop and other postwar developments such as mainstream, third stream, and cool jazz, and closes with footage of one of Miles Davis’s final performances. Throughout this engaging history each style of jazz is illustrated by top-notch performances recorded at the world-famous Montreux Jazz Festival. The New Orleans All Stars deliver effervescent trad jazz; Louis Bellson’s Swing America Big Band do exactly what their name suggests (Bellson was Ellington’s favourite drummer); while George Wein—who founded the renowned Newport Jazz Festival—leads a fine mainstream outfit, which includes Miles Davis’s mentor, Clark Terry on flugelhorn.

A further classy contribution comes from the elegant Modern Jazz Quartet. Several of the foremost young jazz musicians in the world, including Greg Osby and Matthew Shipp, contribute their wisdom and also provide musical illustrations to round out this fulsome introduction to the genre.