A journey into the BBC archives unearthing glorious performances and candid interviews from the golden age of jazz. Featuring some of the greatest names in American music, including the godfather of New Orleans jazz Louis Armstrong, the King of Swing Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Oscar Peterson, Dizzy Gillespie and Ella Fitzgerald. Broadcasted as part of the Old Masters, Rising Stars: Jazz On BBC Four season, this film unlocks the BBC archives to explore the words and music of some of the greatest names in jazz. The BBC soon moved on from Lord Reith's proclamation, made in the 1930s, that jazz was "a filthy product of modernity", and invited some of the legends from the golden age of American jazz to perform and talk on British television. This film is a series of revealing portraits, from Louis Armstrong, jazz's first great soloist and global ambassador, to Duke Ellington, the ever-suave bandleader and composer who brought a new sophistication and ambition to the music. Count Basie is sheer swing, Dizzy Gillespie provoked a musical revolution with bebop, and Ella Fitzgerald is just incomparable. Through long-forgotten archive and specially shot interviews, Jazz Legends In Their Own Words tells the story of an art form that has been called "America's gift to the world".
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We don't know much about the human brain on music. Do people instinctively know the sound patterns of the pentatonic scale? Is there a base level of musical knowledge in all of us, just waiting to be tapped? Or is the pentatonic scale simply so common in Western music that it has become ingrained in all of our minds? Improvisational genius Bobby McFerrin uses audience participation to demonstrate the power of the pentatonic scale - or at least the audience's familiarity with it.
2011 • Music
DJ and broadcaster Rita Ray travels to Mali in West Africa, home to a deep musical culture and ancient instruments that are the hallmark of their sound. Mali has produced more Grammy-winning artists than any other African country, and this well of talent has drawn in artists and producers from around the world to collaborate with the local musicians. Whilst the country has been rocked by Islamist insurgency, leading to a ban on music in some areas, Rita finds out how a traditional way of life and rich musical culture have endured.
Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club celebrates the extraordinary contribution of bass to popular music, tracing its progress from street-corner doo-wop and the overlooked ‘guy at the back’ in rock ‘n’ roll, via Paul McCartney, the anonymous James Jamerson and Carol Kaye - whose genius bass lines underpinned The Beatles, Motown and LA sound respectively - British jazzer Herbie Flowers’s immortal line in Walk on the Wild Side, the emergence of 70s funky bass stars Bootsy Collins and Chic’s Bernard Edwards, the driving lead bass of postpunk maverick Peter Hook in both Joy Division and New Order, through to the growth of bass culture in reggae, whose sound systems sparked whole new genres in drum and bass, grime and beyond. With Bootsy Collins, Dizzee Rascal, Ray Parker Jr, Nile Rodgers, Peter Hook, Carol Kaye, Herbie Flowers, Valerie Simpson, The Marcels’ Fred Jonson, DJ Aphrodite and Gail Ann Dorsey.
Scientists are now finally discovering what thinkers, musicians, or even any of us with a Spotify account and a set of headphones could have told you on instinct: music lights up multiple corners of the brain, strengthening our neural networks, firing up memory and emotion, and showing us what it means to be human. In fact, music is as essential to being human as language and may even predate it. Can music also repair broken networks, restore memory, and strengthen the brain?
John Eliot Gardiner goes in search of Bach the man and the musician. The famous portrait of Bach portrays a grumpy 62-year-old man in a wig and formal coat, yet his greatest works were composed 20 years earlier in an almost unrivalled blaze of creativity. We reveal a complex and passionate artist; a warm and convivial family man at the same time a rebellious spirit struggling with the hierarchies of state and church who wrote timeless music that is today known world-wide. Gardiner undertakes a 'Bach Tour' of Germany, and sifts the relatively few clues we have - some newly-found. Most of all, he uses the music to reveal the real Bach.
2013 • Music
In the 1970s, America was one nation under a groove as an irresistible new style of music took hold of the country - funk. The music burst out of the black community at a time of self-discovery, struggle and social change. Funk reflected all of that. It has produced some of the most famous, eccentric and best-loved acts in the world - James Brown, Sly & the Family Stone, George Clinton's Funkadelic and Parliament, Kool & the Gang and Earth, Wind & Fire. During the 1970s this fun, futuristic and freaky music changed the streets of America with its outrageous fashion, space-age vision and streetwise slang. But more than that, funk was a celebration of being black, providing a platform for a new philosophy, belief system and lifestyle that was able to unite young black Americans into taking pride in who they were. Today, like blues and jazz, it is looked on as one of the great American musical cultures, its rhythms and hooks reverberating throughout popular music. Without it hip-hop wouldn't have happened. Dance music would have no groove. This documentary tells that story, exploring the music and artists who created a positive soundtrack at a negative time for African-Americans. Includes new interviews with George Clinton, Sly & the Family Stone, Earth, Wind & Fire, Kool & the Gang, War, Cameo, Ray Parker Jnr and trombonist Fred Wesley.
2014 • Music