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.
JAZZ begins in New Orleans, nineteenth century America's most cosmopolitan city, where the sound of marching bands, Italian opera, Caribbean rhythms, and minstrel shows fills the streets with a richly diverse musical culture. Here, in the 1890s, African-American musicians create a new music out of these ingredients by mixing in ragtime syncopations and the soulful feeling of the blues.
As the 1930's come to a close, Swing-mania is still going strong, but some fans are saying success has made the music too predictable. Their ears are tuned to a new sound - pulsing, stomping, suffused with the blues.
In 1929, America enters a decade of economic desperation, as the Stock Market collapses and the Great Depression begins. Factories fall silent, farms fall into decay, and a quarter of the nation's workforce is jobless. In these dark times, jazz is called upon to lift the spirits of a frightened country, and finds itself poised for a decade of explosive growth.
During the Sixties, jazz is in trouble. Critics divide the music into "schools" - Dixieland, swing, bebop, hard bop, modal, free, avant-garde. But most young people are listening to rock 'n' roll.
As the stock market continues to soar, jazz is everywhere in America, and now, for the first time soloists and singers take center stage, transforming the music with their distinctive voices and the unique stories they have to tell.
In the late 1950s, America's postwar prosperity continues, but beneath the surface run currents of change. Families are moving to the suburbs, watching television has become the national pastime, and baby boomers have begun coming of age.
As the Roaring Twenties accelerate, Paul Whiteman, a white bandleader, sells millions of records playing a sweet, symphonic jazz. Louis Armstrong comes to New York, adding his improvisational brilliance to the band's new sound - and soon Armstrong is showing the whole world how to swing.