The final installment of Ken Burns’ acclaimed series — canvassing 1960 to the present — finds jazz searching for relevance. Despite Louis Armstrong outselling the Beatles, most jazz musicians are scuffling to find work, let alone be heard.
Most young people listen to rock music. The “free jazz” of artists such as John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman takes the music in increasingly avant-garde — and non-commercial — directions. Musicians and critics alike begin to debate the future and tradition of jazz. In typical fashion, Miles Davis at once illuminates and compounds the issue with his landmark fusion album.
Toward the end of the 1970s, the deaths of both Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington seemed to mark the end of the development of jazz. But, the prodigal return of saxophonist Dexter Gordon from Europe incited a new generation to revisit the jazz of the past and rejuvenate the music. Soon a virtuosic young trumpeter, proficient in both classical and jazz music, is leading the movement to bring the tradition of jazz full circle. Wynton Marsalis, a native of New Orleans — the birthplace of jazz music — takes it into the next century.