He Got Rhythm

Ken Burns wants you to know why Jazz is America's music

"When you talk about Louis Armstrong, you end up dealing with somebody who has this spiritual dimension," he says in a hushed, reverential tone of voice. "Grown men would start to cry in the interview talking about Armstrong. In the fourth episode, there's a section called 'Mr. Armstrong,' which talks about a guy named Charles Black. In September of 1931, Charles Black was a 16-year-old in Austin, Texas, looking for girls. He didn't like jazz, had never heard of Armstrong, and all of a sudden, he walks into this room at the Driskill Hotel, stops dead in his tracks, listens to Armstrong riffing on 'Stardust,' and he realizes he's seeing genius for the first time.

"Louis Armstrong," says Ken Burns, "is to music what Einstein is to physics and what the Wright Brothers are to travel."
Driggs Clllection
"Louis Armstrong," says Ken Burns, "is to music what Einstein is to physics and what the Wright Brothers are to travel."
Ken Burns knew little of jazz before beginning work on his 19-hour documentary in 1994.
Stephanie Berger
Ken Burns knew little of jazz before beginning work on his 19-hour documentary in 1994.

"He realizes this is the American genius. He realizes that all his life he's been taught black people aren't worth shit. After that, Charlie Black goes on to get a law degree and works with Thurgood Marshall to convince the Supreme Court in Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka that segregating schoolchildren on the basis of race and skin color is unconstitutional. That's unbelievable to me. We used to argue in film class: Can people make a difference? Do films make a difference? I've got proof that both films and people do all the time."

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