Plot & Details
Episode three of Ken Burns' comprehensive series -- which covers 1924 to 1929 -- shows how jazz reflected the atmosphere of the country just before the Depression. We meet Bessie Smith, the first influential female vocalist who helped forge new roads for black record labels by performing the blues. There is also the tragic story of the first great white jazz musician, cornetist Bix Beiderbecke, who would create some of the most poignant and melodic solos of his day and then die at age 28, from complications arising from his alcoholism. Burns touches on the Harlem Renaissance's connection with the development of jazz, relating the career of Duke Ellington at Harlem's white-patrons-only Cotton Club and his influence on Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw. The episode culminates with a meditation on Louis Armstrong's brilliant recording "West End Blues" and how it captured the tumultuous atmosphere of America right before the stock market crash.