Plot & Details
The seventh part of Ken Burns' series covers the years 1940 to 1945 and finds jazz at the center of battles at home and abroad during World War II. Glenn Miller and Artie Shaw enlist in the armed forces and take their bands overseas to entertain the troops. Hitler bans jazz in Germany despite -- or rather, because of -- its underground popularity with "swing kids." Yet, as jazz serves as a symbol of American democracy in Europe, many black Americans still aren't allowed to hear freedom swing. The Savoy Ballroom is closed down to keep white servicemen from its integrated swing dances, and riots ensue. Despite the hypocrisy of the era, Duke Ellington sells war bonds and pairs with a brilliant young composer named Billy Strayhorn to write some of the most compelling work of his career. Meanwhile, a cadre of young musicians gathering nightly at a Harlem club discover a new way to play jazz: As the war comes to an end and the recording ban is lifted, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and saxophonist Charlie Parker record the song "Ko Ko" based on the chords to "Cherokee." Thus, "bebop" takes Americans by surprise and propels jazz in a whole new direction.