Masters of American Music

Watch Masters of American Music

  • 1995
  • 1 Season

Masters of American Music is a documentary series produced by Ovation that explores the lives and music of some of America's most iconic jazz musicians. The series features eight episodes, each dedicated to a different artist, and spans the decades from the 1920s through the 1980s.

The series delves deep into the lives of these musicians, highlighting their unique personalities and the cultural influences that shaped their music. From the swing era of Duke Ellington and Count Basie to the bebop revolution of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, each episode takes a comprehensive look at the artist's life and career, utilizing archive footage and interviews with family members, bandmates, and experts in the field.

One of the series' great strengths is its incredible use of archival footage. Alongside interviews with contemporary musicians who are influenced by these greats, the series features rare clips of performances, studio sessions, and interviews with the musicians themselves. These clips transport the viewer to a different era and give a real sense of what it was like to experience these musicians in their prime.

The series begins with the life and music of the "father of jazz," Louis Armstrong. Armstrong revolutionized the genre in the 1920s and 30s, and his legacy has continued to influence jazz ever since. From his early days in New Orleans to his time as a bandleader and international performer, Armstrong's story is one of perseverance and creativity.

The series also explores the work of iconic jazz singers such as Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Sarah Vaughan. Their stories highlight the unique struggles that women faced in the jazz industry and the enduring power of their voices.

One episode is dedicated to the bebop movement, which swept through the jazz world in the 1940s and 50s. This episode focuses on the music of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie and explores how the bebop sound evolved from the swing era. The episode also looks at the influence that these musicians had on the wider cultural landscape, including the Beat poets and the Civil Rights Movement.

Another episode is dedicated to Thelonious Monk, one of the most innovative jazz pianists of all time. Monk's music was often challenging and abstract, but his influence on the jazz world is immeasurable. Through interviews with his family and bandmates, the series explores Monk's unique approach to music and his personal struggles with mental health.

The series also explores the work of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Charles Mingus, three musicians who revolutionized jazz in the 1950s and 60s. Davis's experimentation with electronic instruments and fusion music marked a new direction for jazz, while Coltrane's recordings with his classic quartet are still regarded as some of the greatest and most influential jazz albums ever made. Mingus's music was often politically charged, reflecting his own experiences as a black man in America.

Throughout the series, the focus is not just on the music but on the lives of these musicians. The interviews with their family members and colleagues provide a rich tapestry of stories that reveal the intricate interplay between their personal lives and their music. The series also takes a wider view, placing the music and lives of these great musicians in the context of the changing world around them, from the Great Depression to the Civil Rights Movement and beyond.

Overall, Masters of American Music is a must-watch series for anyone interested in jazz or American music history. The series offers a comprehensive and vivid portrait of some of the greatest musicians of all time, illuminating the stories behind the songs and the cultural and social significance of their work.

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The Story of Jazz
1. The Story of Jazz
September 16, 1995
A captivating trek through the stylistic changes that have kept jazz so fresh for all these years: New Orleans traditions, Stride, Swing, Boogie Woogie, Big Band, Jump Band, Bebop, Afro-Cuban, Cool, and Free-form.
  • Premiere Date
    September 16, 1995