Jazz Century

Russell Davies presents a 52-part history of jazz, from its earliest stirrings until the millennium.


01A Century Of Jazz1999010219990108

Despite its haunting swing and busy urban presence, jazz is difficult to define precisely.

In this introductory programme, Russell Davies set the scene and features some notable jazz oddities.

02Out Of Africa1999010919990115

Since black Americans have been such a powerful presence in jazz from its earliest days, musicians have frequently emphasised the music's African roots. After all, the ancestors of these people were shipped from there to America as slaves. But what exactly do we mean when we talk about the African roots of jazz?

03Original Rags1999011619990122

Before jazz flourished, the musical craze of the time was ragtime. It could be a stately, refined style, but lurking within it was the syncopation and wild energy that formed a major part of jazz.

05The First Records1999013019990205

It is regrettable for historians of jazz music that the first jazz record was not pressed until 1917.

In that year, an all-white New Orleans group called the Original Dixieland Jazz Band became famous for being first - more famous than their musical talent warranted.

A few years later, the New Orleans Rhythm Kings emerged, with a more subtle sound.

21The Jazz Singer Flourishes1999052919990604

If the 20th century is the jazz century, it is also the century of popular song, and the two traditions necessarily shared some territory. The 1930s marked the start of Ella Fitzgerald's recording career, and the incomparable Billie Holiday was producing some of her finest work.


Russell Davies presents a 52-part history of jazz. 22: Black Swing Bands. Most people associate the swing era with the famous white bands, but for musical imagination, consistent swing and great solo playing, the black American band leaders like Jimmy Lunceford, Cab Calloway and Earl Hines were just as strong.


Russell Davies presents a 52-part history of jazz. 23: The Big White Bands. Jazz came closest to being the pop music of its time in the late thirties with the rise of well drilled and stylish big bands fronted by star leaders like Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and Woody Herman.

24Over The Waves1999061919990625

Russell Davies presents a 52-part history of jazz. 24: `Over the Waves'. Jazz has now spread to most corners of the world, but the country in which it received its first warm welcome away from home was France. Here the presence of the brilliant Gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt was a powerful reason for American musicians to visit.

25The Mature Ellington1999061919990625

When composer and pianist Billy Strayhorn joined forces with Duke Ellington, the band's repertoire grew dramatically. The subsequent arrival of brilliant young bass player Jimmy Blanton and tenor saxophonist Ben Webster meant that the Duke could enter the 1940s with unprecedented confidence.

26The Makings Of Modernism1999062619990702

Russell Davies focuses on musicians such as John Kirby, Lester Young, Charlie Christian and Claude Thornhill, who were feeling their way towards modernism even before the 1940s - the decade of bebop.

27Bebop Takes Over1999070319990709

Neither the name of bebop nor its slightly neurotic musical character was unforeseen in jazz. It was the harmonic adventurism of the first boppers in the 1940s that changed the face of the music.


Russell Davies presents a 52-part history of jazz. 28: `Parker's Mood'. An exploration of the influence on jazz of the great alto saxophonist Charlie Parker. Despite his self-destructive habits and early death, he made a more lasting impact than anyone since Louis Armstrong twenty years earlier.

29Bebop Marches On1999071719990723

A look at the contribution made to the bebop movement by the pianists Thelonius Monk and the tragic Bud Powell. Plus tenor saxophonists Wardell Gray and Sonny Rollins, who found an independent voice in the early 1950s when Charlie Parker reigned supreme on the alto.

31The Traditional Jazz Revival1999073119990806

Russell Davies presents a 52-part history of jazz. 31: `The Traditional Jazz Revival'. Although it could be argued that the revival of traditional jazz in the 1940s was a reaction to the harmonic complexities of bebop, jazz had actually been reviving and reinventing its earlier forms for a number of years before revivalism became recognised as a movement.

32Whatever Happened To The Big Bands?1999080719990813

Russell Davies presents a 52-part history of jazz. 32: `Whatever Happened to the Big Bands?' Although the big band era came to a close around the outbreak of World War II, big bands themselves did not disappear. For beboppers like Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk, trained in the big band era, it was natural to fuse that old style of presentation with the new musical lnaguage they had created.

33Birth Of The Cool1999081419990820

The possibility of a cool school in jazz had been present since the 1920s, but cool was only institutionalised after the initial fury of bebop had passed, courtesy of musicians like Miles Davis, Gil Evans and Gerry Mulligan.

34It Gets Cooler1999082119990827

If cool jazz began with the misty voicings of Gil Evans and the brooding lyricism of Miles Davis, musicians like pianists George Shearing and Lennie Tristano and tenor saxophonist Stan Getz showed how this style could be developed.

35Hard Bop1999082819990903

If the defining voice of bebop was the alto sax, the symbolic sound of hard bop was the tenor, with Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane leading the way. Two brilliant but tragically short-lived trumpeters, Clifford Brown and Lee Morgan, summed up as well as anyone what the movement was about.

36The Blue Note Sound1999090419990910

Russell Davies traces the history of the famous Blue Note record label.