Picks and Pans Review: American Masters-John Hammond: from Bessie Smith to Bruce Springsteen

updated 08/20/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/20/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

PBS (Mon., Aug. 20, 9 P.M. ET)


The late John Hammond was, according to this very informative and interesting documentary, a jazz critic, a music promoter, humanitarian and staunch anti-segregationist. But unlike many documentaries, this one also mentions Hammond's rare failures and professional and personal setbacks (such as his divorce). How wonderful it is to see a profile (this one touchingly narrated by actor Ossie Davis) that isn't afraid to acknowledge that its subject had human frailties.

Even so, Hammond, who died in 1987, certainly seems to have been superhuman when it came to judging musical talent. Here he modestly talks about his discoveries and people he nurtured along the way. In addition to early blues great Smith and to Springsteen (seen in rare early footage from August 1972)—the performers Hammond worked with included his brother-in-law Benny Goodman, Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday, Count Basie and Bob Dylan. A unique blend of social and music history, the documentary was written by jazz critic Gary Giddins.

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