First Aired: Jan. 24, 2001 on PBS
Season 1 » Episode #08 - Episode 8: Risk: 1945-1955
Summary: The postwar years bring America to a level of prosperity unimaginable a decade before, but the Cold War threat of nuclear annihilation makes these anxious years as well. In jazz, this underlying tension will be reflected in the broken rhythms and dissonant melodies of bebop, and in the troubled life of bebop's biggest star, Charlie Parker.
Nicknamed "Bird," Parker is a soloist whose ideas and technique are as overwhelming for musicians of his generation as Louis Armstrong's had been a quarter-century before. He is idolized — his improvisations copied, his risk-all intensity on stage imitated, and his self-destructive lifestyle adopted as a prerequisite for inspiration. Parker's example helps bring a narcotics plague to the jazz community, and when he dies, wasted by heroin at age 34, drugs are as much a part of his legacy to jazz as the genius of his music.
But Parker is not the only bebop innovator. His longtime partner, Dizzy Gillespie, tries to popularize the new sound by adding showmanship and Latin rhythms, while pianist Thelonius Monk infuses it with his eccentric personality to create a music all his own. Except for jazz initiates, however, few people are listening. Teens now swoon for pop singers and dance to rhythm and blues.
Searching for a new audience, California musicians create a mellow sound called cool jazz, and Dave Brubeck mixes jazz with classical music to produce a million-seller LP. But one man remains determined to give jazz popular appeal on his own terms, the trumpet player Miles Davis. A one-time Parker sideman who has finally broken heroin's grip on his career, Davis is moving beyond the cool sound he inspired and stands poised to lead jazz in a new direction.
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