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Hear & Now

This Week On The Music Beat

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MOJO RISING Ken Burns’ JAZZ series contributed to a jazz explosion, while the O Brother soundtrack helped bluegrass grow. Now a host of filmmakers, musicians, and authors are prepping an all-media assault to make the blues bloom in 2003. Seattle’s Experience Music Project and the Memphis-based Blues Foundation have convinced Congress to dub this the ”Year of the Blues,” and to make that title apt, they’ve planned The Blues — a project consisting of a series of high-profile documentaries, a book to be published by HarperCollins, and a CD boxed set. Martin Scorsese, a music buff, helped conceive the undertaking and will executive-produce the seven films, each helmed by a prominent director and scheduled to air on PBS this fall. ”Each director tackles a certain geographic and roughly chronological area, but within that focus, they’re free to do what they want,” says Alex Gibney, the series’ producer. Scorsese will direct From Mali to Mississippi, the first film, tracing the blues from Africa to the American South. Wim Wenders’ The Soul of a Man follows the lives of Skip James, Blind Willie Johnson, and J.B. Lenoir and boasts covers of their songs by Lou Reed, Lucinda Williams, and Los Lobos. Mike Figgis directs the last installment, Red, White and Blues. It focuses on the ’60s British invasion and features interviews with and performances by Jeff Beck and Van Morrison. The companion book (coedited by EW contributor Holly George-Warren) contains essays by Chuck D, David Halberstam, and Studs Terkel, while the boxed set offers musical highlights from the films. ”Ken Burns’ JAZZ tried to be the last word on its subject. With this series, we’re trying to be the first word,” says Gibney. ”We’re not saying, ‘We’re coming down from the mountain, and here are the tablets.’ It’s more like, ‘Let’s get together and have a party.”’