Plot & Details
Episode six of Ken Burns's series -- covering 1937 to 1939 -- finds swing fans decrying the commercialization of big band jazz. Soon, an exciting new swing sound, infused with the blues and centered around improvisation, is reinvigorating jazz audiences and musicians alike. The focal point of this movement is Kansas City, and Count Basie's band leads the charge of the "Territory Bands" -- so-called because of their mid-western roots. Kansas City swing enters the spotlight in 1938 when Basie's band performs alongside Benny Goodman's at Carnegie Hall. Soon after the set, the group travels uptown to the Savoy Ballroom and a legendary battle of the bands with Chick Webb. By the end of the '30s, Basie's lead saxophonist Lester Young has risen to the forefront of jazz and with a laid-back, mellow approach that will influence such later jazz luminaries as Miles Davis. Young also pairs with Billie Holiday who eventually records the incendiary anti-lynching ballad "Strange Fruit". By the decade's end, Chick Webb similarly garners fame and fortune with a young singer named Ella Fitzgerald, and as war breaks out in Europe, Coleman Hawkins records the ballad "Body and Soul" in such a way that prefigures the sound of jazz to come.