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January 8, 2001

Normally I don’t recommend specific TV shows for your viewing, except the ones in which Myrna Niles Hamann appears. However, a series is coming up on Public Television that certainly warrants the attention of anyone who has even the least bit of interest in the musical genre known as jazz. The name of the series is simply that, “Jazz,” and some of the giants of that field will be dealt with on the show. That includes the likes of Louis Armstrong, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and many, many others. Personally, I’m all a-tingle in anticipation. Anxiety is building as if another national championship football contest were coming. The series is advertised as a 19-hour documentary, and while that may sound too long for some, I have a feeling it will not be nearly long enough for true believers and aficionados

The series is another from Ken Burns, whose previous works along the lines of popular history have included “The Civil War” and “Baseball.” Of course I have not seen a preview of this one, but I saw the others and they were simply great. The advance stories I’ve read indicate that “Jazz” is a worthy addition to Mr. Burns’ collection of cultural studies.

I mentioned earlier that Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller and Artie Shaw are among the industry’s best-known showmen and that they will be spotlighted in the series. Those men contributed much to the birth, growth and continuing popularity of jazz, but many others whose names are not so well known also will receive recognition. Of the four gents mentioned above, only Artie Shaw survives and he gave up being a musician decade ago. He’s now in his 90s but his wit and wisdom seem to be unimpaired. He was a masterful clarinetist and his orchestras were among the favorites of young people in the late 1930s and on into the 1940s. To me he comes across today as a great egotist and cynic, but that does not diminish his contributions to the world of popular music. Incidentally, he was once married to actress Lana Turner, among others. I remember an interview he granted to a reporter a few years ago. The name of Sammy Kaye came up. For you too young to remember, Mr. Kaye had an orchestra that invited listeners to “swing and sway with Sammy Kaye.” In other words, they played music both sweet and hot, but mostly sweet. “Mr. Kaye and I were not in the same business,” Artie told the reporter with a sneer, an obvious rejection of Sammy’s style.

The series starts tonight, Monday, on OETA channel 13. Watch the TV listings for future installments of this eagerly awaited series on jazz, and I suspect you will be either as thrilled as I expect to be, or perhaps you will be converted to the ranks of those who already love it.