Jazz :: A History of America’s Music

NOTE :: Originally a Barnes U Noble University online course I completed Dec. 2001, immediately after the 9-11 tragedy.

Visit today’s: Barnes & Noble.com – B&N Book Clubs

Course Description

All meaningful music is more than notes and melodies; it’s an expression of the experiences of the musicians creating it. Jazz, born and bred in the USA, is America’s music and its sound has always directly reflected what was happening in our society. By exploring the endlessly fascinating background of the music and its musicians you’ll learn as much about modern America as you do jazz, enabling you to understand the context of jazz and why its appeal remains as strong and seductive today as it was when it first appeared. When Ken Burns set out to make his documentary on the history of jazz, he had only two jazz recordings in his collection. He wasn’t an expert, but he had a deep curiosity about the music, the people who created it, and the conditions that led to its creation. He also had a willingness to explore and a capacity to be entertained and enlightened by what his explorations uncovered. Anyone and everyone with similar sensibilities will enjoy and benefit from this course.


All you need to bring is open ears and an open mind; the music will do the rest.


  • Learn how and why jazz, America’s native music, was invented
  • Meet the remarkable inventors of jazz, and learn about their lives
  • Discover what drives jazz musicians to create
  • Explore the context in which this remarkable music was created and continues to evolve

Course Creator

Michael Point
Veteran Down Beat contributor Michael Point has written about jazz internationally for more than a quarter century and produces both live jazz and jazz recordings.

Course Materials

image001 Jazz: A History of America’s Music
The award-winning team of Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns — whose past efforts brought Baseball and The Civil War to life — weave the stories of myriad musicians, personalities, styles, and schools into an engaging and singularly American tale. The result is a thoroughly entertaining tribute to ingenuity, creativity, and good ol’ American music.

image002 The Best Of Ken Burns Jazz Music (CD)
The 20 tracks on this CD were heard on documentary filmmaker Ken Burns’ 10-part 2000 PBS special. The central release of this program was the five-CD box set Ken Burns Jazz: The Story of America’s Music, which was augmented by no less than 22 single-artist anthologies. The Best of Ken Burns Jazz is the commercially available single-CD sampler, all of its 20 tracks taken from the five-CD box set.

image004 Ken Burns Jazz: The Story of America’s Music Music (CD)
It’s no easy task summarizing the history of recorded jazz from 1917 to the present, but Ken Burns does a fine job of accomplishing just that on this five-disc overview of the music. From blues to New Orleans-style to swing to bop to modern to free jazz and on to contemporary sounds, as well as many of the tangents within that broad spectrum, each idiom gets its due.

Additional materials

image005 All Music Guide to Jazz
Now in its third edition, the All Music Guide to Jazz has become the definitive reference on jazz recordings and performers. This edition has been updated and greatly expanded throughout, with thousands of new reviews written by noted jazz critics and seasoned music journalists.

image007 Satchmo: The Genius of Louis Armstrong
Gary Giddins has been called “the best jazz writer in America today” by Esquire. Louis Armstrong has been called the most influential jazz musician of the century. Together this auspicious pairing has resulted in Satchmo, one of the most vivid and fascinating portaits ever drawn of perhaps the greatest figure in the history of American music.

image009 The History of Jazz
Ted Gioia tells the story of jazz as it has never been told before, in a book that brilliantly portrays the legendary players, the breakthrough styles, and the world in which it evolved. Gioia provides readers with lively portraits of great musicians, intertwined with vibrant commentary on the music they created.

image011 Jazz: The Essential Companion for Every Jazz Fan
From Dixieland to swing, bebop to fusion, and hip-hop to funk, jazz has been the constant and ever-changing soundtrack to 20th-century American life. It came of age along with dance crazes, the movies, the record industry, and worldwide broadcasting.

1 Ken Burns Jazz Superstore

Be a part of Ken Burns’s Jazz, the monumental ten-part documentary series on PBS, with the Jazz companion book, a slew of CDs tied to the show, and a free video preview. You can also order the complete series on DVD or VHS.

2 Jazz Bookshelf

Visit our Jazz Bookshelf for a complete selection of books that are specially chosen to enhance your learning experience. Also, you will find links to different types of jazz music selections.