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Photo Reviews – "Jazz: A History of American Music" – Geoffrey C Ward and Ken Burns

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Chapter 1: America claims to be a melting pot, but part of what makes cooking taste good are snacks that have retained their flavor, texture and shape. America is diversity in places like the French Quarter of New Orleans on page 3 of chapter one. We see this morsel clinging to the pot, keeping its flavor, its truly French flavor, but significantly what we claim to be America.

In the scene, we can see both Paris and the Midwest. A high street feel, with horse drawn carts and bearded men in feather dusters. However, in the wrought iron towers we see Paris. The mood is summed up by the hybrid of Paris and the West in a blacksmith poster proclaiming “Bouchoux”.

Chapter 2: It is important to see landmarks such as the birthplace of Louis Armstrong (p. 38). This shows how often great hearts and minds come from humble origins. Out of poverty arises greatness. It makes you stop and think about what the segregated south where you were born in 1901 was like.

The photo, taken in 1963, reminds us that time advances. The “Jax” tail sign shows the corner store era, which was a convenience in the 1960s, but no longer exists in the world today. The fact that the building in which Armstrong was born is demolished reminds us that we must appreciate greatness in its fleeting step, the step of greatness like Armstrong himself. Nothing is permanent.

Chapter 3: In the image from chapter three, we see Louis Armstrong and King Oliver in 1922. It is very significant to see Armstrong at the age of twenty-one after seeing him in the previous chapter at the age of nineteen. He had been a boy with his mother and sister in chapter two, and now, two years later, he looks much more like a man on the right hand side of jazz legend King Oliver.

It is also significant to see Oliver and Armstrong together in a photo. Many of us know Armstrong and how he has inspired much of today’s music. It is a pleasure to glimpse on the shoulders that this giant was standing. The teacher of this generation is at the source of their wisdom.

Chapter 4: It’s quite a sight to see Atlantic City in 1928 with the Ben Pollack Band. This shows us that jazz has made its way from the southern clubs and ghettos to one of the most popular resorts in America at the time. The site of the bathers and the luxurious hotels is a great change from places like the birthplace of Louis Armstrong.

It is also quite impressive to see so many jazz legends together in one place. We’ve all heard of Benny Goodman. Seeing him in his twenties is quite significant. I had never even heard of greats like Jack Teagarden, who, once again, proves that the legends I know, like Goodman, were on the shoulders of those of his time.

Chapter 5: I like the Chick Webb cartoon on his hype head. As I was flipping through the book, it caught my eye, which, I imagine, was the purpose of the drum on stage. The crown on Webb’s head in the cartoon gives him a majestic look. Webb on top of his drums crowns this majestic look.

Chick Webb was a major drummer. This image takes that away. This almost comical impudence of his presence seems to convey this importance. The noisy portrait composition, his toothy smile and mean drumming speak to Webb’s position as an iconic drummer.

Chapter 6: The facade of the Stanley Theater in the 1930s shows how luxurious and ornate the palaces of the time were. There has been a movement to restore this type of theater and its architecture. However, it’s great to imagine being when that was the norm. The ad for “Scientific Air Conditioning” really takes a trip back in time. We travel to the era of Benny Goodman.

It is significant to see that in the 1930s, Goodman has made his way as the main headliner. His name appears first on the palace invoice. Again, like Armstrong, he had just seen it in a previous chapter when he was twenty years old. It’s funny to call this scene a moment of progress in a time when everything that is advertised is over. The time goes by.

Chapter 7: It’s a very moving image of the service men sitting around the record player in the service field. Soldiers carry letters. Music should improve the mood for them to imagine their loved ones. A little blues is likely to stir your soul.

This scene shows how jazz is and was music for the people. The smiles of the soldiers show that they relate to the music. Jazz sounds both in Atlantic City and in the trenches, not just in the ghettos and clubs. The time has passed.

Chapter 8: The image of Ella Fitzgerald signing in Manhattan is captivating. The light in this image plays well everywhere. There’s a shimmering diamond under her chin, and the spotlight on the audience captures the smoky halo of an intimate club. Just enough light shines on the artwork on the walls to make it captivating, but the art doesn’t outshine Ellington, in the audience, it doesn’t outshine Fitzgerald.

Such an intimate nightclub makes one wish you could be there. I’d like to see Fitzgerald or Ellington or Goodman perform, let alone be with all three in the confines of a vintage nightclub. Imagine sharing a Coke with Duke Ellington while listening to Ella Fitzgerald. Wow. Duke sure looks happy.

Chapter 9: There is a photo of Donald Byrd practicing on the subway. Someone who does something like this is clearly dedicated to their craft. I can see that he doesn’t care about the people around him. He is one with his instrument.

I often go to McDonald’s and sit, meditate, and study. This image reminds me of that. The life of an artist is usually very lonely. We often want to see and feel what the public reaction is, even if it is not paid. We often take great risks, like playing the trumpet in the subway. This image makes him feel connected to Byrd.

Chapter 10: The circle is completed by seeing Louis Armstrong playing the trumpet with the children in Queens. Now he is the giant on whose shoulders the children are. It’s great to see a man of this stature have time for the children. We could only hope that the greats could teach their craft.

In his time, Armstrong had achieved his fame. We can see that it is in children that he enjoys life. And the children return this joy. It’s great to see the range of ages of children captivated by the music in this image.

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