"These are first-rate directors, and each has an affinity for the music," says deejay Bill Wax, a lifelong blues fan and host of XM Satellite Radio's "Bluesville" channel. "This can only be a good thing for the blues, just like Ken Burns' series was good for jazz."
The seeds of The Blues were planted a few years ago when Scorsese was filming a documentary on Eric Clapton. As the two chatted about Clapton's musical influences, the British guitar great said he'd love to see a film that captured the history of the blues. Initially, Scorsese planned just one film that he would produce and Charles Burnett would direct. But Alex Gibney, a respected producer whose credits include The Fifties and Sexual Century, suggested that a solo film couldn't contain the riches of the blues.
Hence the seven-film format. "We're hopeful that the series will introduce new audiences worldwide to this music and also inspire kids, whether they like rock or hip-hop, to better understand the struggles and genius that gave birth to what they listen to today," Scorsese says.
Scorsese emphasizes that his series is a markedly different production from Ken Burns' Jazz, an encyclopedic and influential 10-parter that ran on PBS three years ago. While The Blues owes its life to Scorsese, it has no single, overarching Burnslike vision of its subject matter. Scorsese hopes this freewheeling approach to such "personal and evocative" music will give the audience the essence of the blues - "the spirit of it rather than just plain facts."
The day-to-day grunt work of producing The Blues fell to Alex Gibney, whose passion for the music oozes from his every sentence. "[Burns] had a very strong, linear narrative that traced the history of the music," says Gibney. "Our approach doesn't attempt to be the last word on the blues, but a number of first words. Each film is an agent provocateur, a personal expression by a filmmaker meant to get people goosed up about the blues."