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Regular Feature | Film Reviews documentary, directed by MariaAgui Carter and CalvinA. Lindsay , Jr., shows that such was not always the case. When jazz first reared its head, Thomas Edison said that it sounded better played backwards and furniture manufacturers began to market their wares as "jazz-proof." These examples may be merely amusing, but other attacks onjazz, including those published in the New York Times and Ladies'Home Journal, were decidedly more insidious, assailing jazz as amoral, as a music that evoked primal urges, forcing the body to move in ways that it oughtn't. And it is this threat that is at the heart of The Devil's Music, which examines the reasons whyjazz was both popular and condemned . As with film, that which offended one sensibility was exactly what made it appeal to another. Jazz introduced a new freedom to music, which sent critics like Daniel Gregory Mason reeling with abhorrence, even as it was hailed by Europeans, including Maurice Ravel, as the most interesting thing happening in music. Of course, the documentary is quick to point out that it was not strictly a question of musicality that set up obstacles to earlyjazz, but also a question of race. As historian Kathy Ogren points out, there was also a fear that listeners would "lose their racial identity and . . . beLouis Armstrong in 1931 come primitive savages." Ultimately , it was the denial of the ethnic origins of jazz that allowed it wider acceptance. The Devil's Music traces the refining ofjazz's reputation as the first record was released (by The Original Dixieland Jazz Band, an all-white group billed as "the creators ofjazz"), through the selfproclaimed "King of Jazz," Paul Whiteman, who attempted to "clean up" jazz by putting a white face on it and hiring George Gershwin to link classical and jazz in "Rhapsody in Blue." By tracing the careers of such popular innovators ofjazz like Jelly Roll Morton, Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, and Duke Ellington, The Devil's Music presents an effective introduction to the gradual and often difficult road to acceptance traveled by jazz. Aiding this are many interviews with both cultural critics andhistorians, likeAnn Douglas, Michael Eric Dyson, and Studs Terkel, as well as musicians Billy Taylor, Franz Jackson, and Maria McPartland. Lest these lists of interviewees make these documentaries seem talky, rest assured, the production quality of Hollywood Censored and The Devil's Music is top-notch, quick paced and filled with striking images from cinema and the jazz stage. The Devil 's Music, particularly, benefits from lovely a cappella interludes courtesy of singer Rachelle Ferrell. Although in both cases one might argue that an hour is simply not enough time to truly do justice to the topics, there can be no doubt that these documentaries present excellent introductions to the subject matter, and even those with familiarity are likely to find something worth their time, not the least of which is the excellence of production which makes them ajoy to watch. Of notable interest is how the topics of these two documentaries work in tandem (they were, after all, originally aired back to back). In The Devil's Music, Studs Terkel notes that "Today we respect jazz. The world over it's accepted as an art form. Yet at the beginning ... the obstacles were overwhelming ." Indeed, the producers find many early denunciations of jazz, but are hard pressed to find a contemporary interview subject to condemn it as un-musical. Instead, to bring the discussion to our present day, they need to draw upon the reactions to gangster rap, which, though not without similarities, has been attacked more on the basis of its lyrical content than due to the "primitivism" of its sound, as was the case withjazz. However, the producers of Hollywood Censored need make no such leap. Instead, these documentarians find plenty of complaints about the film industry as it is today. One might argue that the movies have continued to suffer attacks because they have remained a popular entertainment, whereas jazz has been displaced as the most popular of popular musics, and has instead found its appeal limited to a more elite audience. Ultimately, it has come to represent status...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9922
Print ISSN
0360-3695
Pages
pp. 73-75
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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