Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Ken Burns’ Jazz Returns to the Airwaves in 2021

The 10-part documentary was first broadcast two decades ago

A scene from Ken Burns' Jazz
A scene from Ken Burns’ Jazz (used by permission from Florentine Films)

Jazz, the landmark Ken Burns documentary that premiered in January 2001, celebrates its 20th anniversary next month. Burns and PBS will mark the occasion with a rebroadcast of the 10-part series, beginning January 7 at 9 p.m. EST and continuing for nine Thursdays thereafter.

The series will also be available to stream on PBS digital platforms beginning January 7.

Nineteen hours in its total length, Jazz covers the creation and evolution of jazz from the early 20th century onward, as narrated by actor Keith David. Included in its range are artists from Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington (the series’ two central figures) to Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Ornette Coleman. Critics Gary Giddins and the late Stanley Crouch are among its most prominent talking heads, as are writer Gerald Early and jazz musician Wynton Marsalis, both of whom also served as creative consultants on the series.

Almost from the moment its first episode was broadcast on January 8, 2001, the series was controversial, especially in the jazz community. It drew criticism for its meager coverage of jazz after the mid-1960s and an alleged bias in favor of pre-World War II styles, and against later developments such as free jazz and fusion.

Nevertheless, Jazz was a popular success. It doubled the average Nielsen rating in 48 media markets and inspired a brief spike in jazz record sales, especially for its 22 companion albums. It was nominated in 2001 for an Emmy for Outstanding Non-Fiction Series (Informational).

For more information, visit the Jazz page at the PBS website.

Read Bob Blumenthal’s feature on Ken Burns’ Jazz from the December 2000 issue of JazzTimes.