Lost episode from Ken Burns'
144-hour documentary, "Jazz."
The following has been making the rounds among musicians and fans. For those of you who haven't seen it yet, we reproduce it here.
Fade up on a grainy old photograph of a man in a three-piece suit, holding a cornet. Or a bicycle horn, it's hard to tell.
NARRATOR: Skunkbucket LeFunke was born in 1876 and died in 1901. No one who heard him is alive today. The grandchildren of the people who heard him are not alive today. The great-grandchildren of the people who heard him are not alive today. He was never recorded.
WYNTON MARSALIS: I'll tell you what Skunkbucket LeFunke sounded like. He had this big rippling sound, and he always phrased off the beat, and he slurred his notes. And when the Creole bands were still playing De-bah-de-bah-ta-da-tah, he was already playing Bo-dap-da-lete-do-do-do-bah! He was just like gumbo, ahead of his time.
ANNOUNCER: LeFunke was a cornet player, gambler, card shark, pool hustler, pimp, male prostitute, Kelly Girl, computer programmer, brain surgeon and he invented the internet.
STANLEY CROUCH: When people listened to Skunkbucket LeFunke, they heard Do-do-dee-bwap-da-dee-dee-de-da-da-doop-doop-dap. And they knew even then how deeply profound that was.
ANNOUNCER: It didn't take LeFunke long to advance the art of jazz past its humble beginnings in New Orleans whoredom with the addition of a bold and sassy beat.
WYNTON: Let me tell you about the Big Four. Before the Big Four, jazz drumming sounded like BOOM-chick-BOOM-chick-BOOM-chick. But now they had the Big Four, which was so powerful some said it felt like a Six. A few visiting musicians even swore they were in an Eight.
STANLEY: It was smooth and responsive, and there was no knocking and pinging, even on 87 octane.
WYNTON: Even on gumbo.
ANNOUNCER: When any musician in the world heard Louis Armstrong for the first time, they gnawed their arm off with envy, then said the angels probably wanted to sound like Louis. When you consider a bunch of angels talking in gruff voices and singing "Hello Dolly," you realize what a stupid aspiration that is.
GARY GIDDY: Louis changed jazz because he was the only cat going Do-da-dep-do-wah-be-be, while everyone else was doing Do-de-dap-dit-dit-dee.
STANLEY: And that was very profound.
MARSALIS: Like gumbo.
MATT GLASER: I always have this fantasy that when Louis performed in Belgium, Heisenberg was in the audience and he was blown away and that's where he got the idea for his Uncertainty Principle.
MARSALIS: Because the Uncertainty Principle, applied to jazz, means you never know if a cat is going to go Dap-da-de-do-ba-ta-bah or Dap-da-de-do-bip-de-beep.
WYNTON: Louis was the first one to realize that.
STANLEY: And that can be very profound.
STANLEY: I thought it was a box of chocolates...
ANNOUNCER: The Savoy Ballroom brought people of all races colors and political persuasions together to get sweaty as Europe moved closer and closer to the brink of World War II.
SAVOY DANCER: We didn't care what color you were at the Savoy. We only cared if you were wearing deodorant.
STANLEY: Wynton always wears deodorant.
GLASER: I'll bet Arthur Murray was on the dance floor and he was thinking about Louis and that's where he got the idea to open a bunch of dance schools.
STANLEY: And that was very profound.
GIDDY: Let's talk about Louis some more. We've wasted three minutes of this 57-part documentary not talking about Louis.
WYNTON: He was an angel, a genius, much better than Cats.
STANLEY: He invented the word "Cats."
WYNTON: He invented swing, he invented jazz, he invented the telephone, the automobile and the polio vaccine.
STANLEY: And the internet.
WYNTON: Very profound.
ANNOUNCER: Louis Armstrong turned commercial in the 1930s and didn't make any more breakthrough contributions to jazz. But it's not PC to point that out, so we'll be showing him in every segment of this series to come, even if he's just doing the same things as the last time you saw him.
GLASER: I'll bet Chuck Yeager was in the audience when Louis was hitting those high Cs at the Earle Theater in Philadelphia, and that's what
made him decide to break the sound barrier.
STANLEY: And from there go to Pluto.
WYNTON: I'm going to make some gumbo-
GIDDY: Do-yap-do-wee-bah-scoot-scoot-dap-dap...That's what all the cats were saying back then.
ANNOUNCER: In 1964, John Coltrane was at his peak, Eric Dolphy was in Europe, where he would eventually die, the Modern Jazz Quartet was making breakthrough recordings in the field of Third Stream Music, Miles Davis was breaking new barriers with his second great quintet, and Charlie Mingus was extending jazz composition to new levels of complexity. But we're going to talk about Louis singing "Hello Dolly" instead.
STANLEY: Louis went, Ba-ba-yaba-do-do-dee-da-bebin-doo-wap-deet-deet-do-da-da.
WYNTON: Sweets went, Scoop-doop-shalaba-yaba-mokey-hokey-bwap-bwap-tee-tee-dee.
GIDDY: I go, Da-da-shoobie-doobie-det-det-det-bap-bap-baaaaa...
ANNOUNCER: The rest of the history of jazz will be shown in fast forward and will occupy exactly seven seconds. —There, that was it.
Now here are some scenes from Ken Burns' next documentary, a 97-part epic about the Empire State Building, titled "The Empire State Building."
"It is tall and majestic. It is America's building. It is the Empire State Building. Dozens of workers gave their lives in the construction of this building."
GLASER: I'll bet that they were thinking of Louis as they were falling to their deaths. I have this fantasy that his high notes inspired the
immenseness of the Empire State Building.
WYNTON: I'll bet most people who'd fall off the Empire State Building would go "Aaaaaahhhh!" But these cats went "Dee-dee-daba-da-da-bop-bop-de-dop-shewap-splat!"
ANNOUNCER: That's next time on PBS.