EmptyAirdate: 8-9 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 16 (Smithsonian Channel)
Well come on, does it get any better than the mellifluous Morgan Freeman hosting a six-part weekly series that traces the roots of blues music through its evolution into jazz, rock and soul -- on something called the Smithsonian Channel? (Admission: I had no idea there was a Smithsonian Channel until roughly, oh, three hours ago.)
Given that Freeman could make an egg-laying contest between rival chickens sound like the Second Coming -- and considering the amazing array of vintage clips, interviews with musical legends and historians and performances by the likes of Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Etta James, Miles Davis and the Neville Brothers -- well, how can this thing be much less than pure magic? Answer: It can't. Even having watched only the first three installments, I'll go out on a limb and predict that the last three are just as good, sharply packaged and engrossing. A couple of guys named Joe Cushley (the writer) and Christopher Walker (the producer and director) set out to craft a definitive document about the creation, development and diversification of the Southern-bred blues, and they succeed here on a grand scale.
"Sound Revolution" kicks off on Sunday with the view from blues music's Ground Zero, the place where it all began. That would be the legendary blues club in Clarksdale on the Mississippi Delta, where it came into being more than a century ago. It builds a case for how those humble origins would morph into bebop, jazz and ultimately rock 'n' roll in the 1950s and '60s, crossing international borders and influencing British rockers like guitar virtuoso Eric Clapton.
The second and third hours examine how the blues grew into a revolution unto itself and spawned a thing called jazz in the clubs of New Orleans. The last three parts move through jazz and into the stirrings of soul, including the towering impact of Ray Charles. Even Freeman performs a tune in the fifth installment, crooning "I Got a Woman." And here we thought the man's narration skills peaked in "March of the Penguins." No way.
This all leaves only one remaining, albeit fuzzy question: Where does one find the Smithsonian Channel? Well, if you subscribe to either DirecTV or Dish Network it's in the lineup on both, as well as over various digital cable platforms. But the channel's availability remains somewhat spotty. If all else fails, it might be best to just track down Freeman and ask to borrow his copy of the DVD. On second thought, let's maybe forget that.
Production: Eagle Media Production and Smithsonian Networks.
Producer-director: Christopher Walker.
Writer: Joe Cushley.
Commentators: Matt Backer, Rob Bowman, Joe Cushley, Olu Dara, Nelson George, Buddy Guy, Nona Hendryx, Wayne Jackson, Chris Thomas King, G. Love, Bill Luckett, Carol Maillard, Greg Osby, Louise Robinson, Matthew Shipp, John Sinclair, Speech, James Blood Ulmer, Abram Wilson.
Host-narrator: Morgan Freeman.