Episode 1. Jazz is born in New Orleans at the turn of the century emerging from several forms of music including ragtime, marching bands, work songs, spirituals, creole music, funeral parade music and above all, the blues. Musicians profiled here who advanced early jazz are Buddy Bolden, Jelly Roll Morton, Sidney Bechet, Freddie Keppard, and musicians of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band.
Episode 2. From 1917 through 1924, the "Jazz Age" begins with speakeasies, flappers and easy money for some. The story of jazz becomes a tale of two cities, Chicago and New York, and of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, whose lives and music will span three-quarters of a century. This episode also follows the careers of jazz greats James Reese Europe, King Oliver, Willie Smith, Fletcher Henderson, Paul Whiteman and James P. Johnson.
Episode 3. By 1924 to 1928, jazz is everywhere in America and spreading abroad. For the first time, soloists and singers take center stage, transforming the music with their distinctive voices. This episode traces the careers of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Artie Shaw, Sidney Bechet, Bessie Smith, Earl Hines, Ethel Waters, Bix Beiderbecke, the first great white jazz artist and Benny Goodman, the son of Jewish immigrants.
Episode 4. Amid the hard times of the Depression, new dances, the Lindy Hop and Swing, caught on at the dance halls of New York even as the jobless lined the streets and drought ruined Midwest farms. Jazz, during 1929 through 1935, lifted the nation's spirit. Record sales boomed while Armstrong became a major entertainer as singer, trumpeter, band leader, radio and film performer. Ellington's elegance, compositions, brilliant band films and recordings created a huge following in America and abroad. This segment also visits the careers of Fletcher Henderson, Benny Goodman, Billy Rose, Chick Webb, Fats Waller, Art Tatum and the record producer, John Hammond.
Episode 5. In the mid 1930s, as the Great Depression refuses to lift, Benny Goodman finds himself hailed as the "King of Swing" and becomes the first white bandleader to hire black musicians. He has a host of rivals among them, Chick Webb, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmie Lunceford, Glen Miller and Artie Shaw. Louis Armstrong heads a big band of his own, while Duke Ellington continues his independent course, but great black artists still can't eat or sleep in many of the hotels where they perform. Billie Holiday emerges from a childhood of tragedy to begin her career as the greatest of all female jazz singers.
Episode 6. In the late 1930s, as the Great Depression deepens, jazz thrives. The saxophone emerges as an iconic instrument of the music; this segment introduces two of its masters, Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young. Young migrates to Kansas City, where a vibrant music scene is prospering with musicians such as trumpeter Harry "Sweets" Edison and drummers Jo Jones and Chick Webb. Out of this ferment emerges pianist Count Basie, who forms a band that epitomizes the Kansas City sound. Billie Holiday cuts recordings while other women musicians, including pianist Mary Lou Williams and singer Ella Fitzgerald emerge on the jazz scene. Benny Goodman holds the first-ever jazz concert at Carnegie Hall while Duke Ellington tours Europe.
Episode 7. When America enters WWII in 1941, swing becomes a symbol of democracy and entertainers like Dave Brubeck, Glenn Miller and Artie Shaw take their music to the armed forces overseas. In Nazi-occupied Europe, gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt blends jazz with his own musical traditions. In New York, Billie Holiday is unofficial queen despite a growing addiction to narcotics. Duke Ellington, assisted by the gifted young arranger, Billy Strayhorn, brings his music to ever-greater heights. After dark, a small underground of gifted young musicians led by the trumpet virtuoso Dizzy Gillespie and saxophonists Charlie Parker and Ben Webster begin to develop a new, fast and intricate way of playing, developing a new music called bebop. Meanwhile in 1945, black soldiers return home to the same racism they fought against, and a growing unrest sets the seeds for future rebellions.
Episode 8. Between 1945 and 1955, jazz splinters into different camps: cool and hot, East and West, traditional and modern. One by one, the big bands leave the road, but Duke Ellington keeps his band together, while Louis Armstrong puts together a small group, the "All-Stars." Promoter Norman Granz insists on equal treatment for every member of his integrated troupes on his Jazz at the Philharmonic Tours. Meanwhile, bebop musicians Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker are creating some of the most inventive jazz ever played but a devastating narcotics plague sweeps through the jazz community, ruining lives and changing the dynamics of performance. And a number of great performers, including Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, Gerry Mulligan, Thelonious Monk, Paul Desmond, Bille Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and John Lewis, find new ways to bring new audiences to jazz.
Episode 9. Between 1955 and 1960, rhythm and blues and rock ' roll erode jazz' audiences but the music still enjoys tremendous creativity. Saxophonist Sonny Rollins and trumpeter Clifford Brown make their marks while Duke Ellington emerges stronger than ever and Miles Davis and John Coltrane make legendary albums. Louis Armstrong jeopardizes his career when he condemns the government for its failure to act on racism in Little Rock, Ark. Drummer Art Blakely and others attempt to win back R & B audiences to jazz. As stars such as Billie Holiday fade out, others such as Sarah Vaughan burn brightly and newcomers such as Ornette Coleman begin to push the music into uncharted territories.
Episode 10. In the 1960s, jazz fragments into the avant-garde and many divided schools of thought. Many jazz musicians like Dexter Gordon are forced to leave America in search of work while other use the music as a form of social protest: Max Roach, Charles Mingus, and Archie Shepp make overtly political musical statements. John Coltrane appeals to a broad audience before his untimely death. Saxophonist Stan Getz helps boost a craze for bossa nova music, but in the early 1970s, jazz founders Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington pass away. Miles Davis leads a movement of jazz musicians who incorporate elements of rock and soul into their music and "fusion" wins listeners. By the mid-1980's, jazz begins to bounce back led by Wynton Marsalis and a new generation of musicians. Now as it approaches its centennial, jazz is still alive, still changing and still swinging.