"From Jumpstreet," the long-awaited PBS series tracing the history of black American music is about to kick off a 13-week run on Oct. 2. So last night WETA-TV had a celebration at the American Film Institute: It screened two shows and lavished a reception on about 125 people.
"'Jumpstreet' was jumping from the very start," said Liz Carpenter, assistant secretary for public affairs of the Department of Education, which funded the series at $1.6 million.
"This is the first time the history of black music has been put on television. And the group that will like it most will be black teen-agers. We have hope for future grants for similar projects."
In production for two years, the series opens with a show featuring vocalists Al Jarreau and Carmen McRae. It progresses through gospel, the blues, West African roots, early jazz, soul, rhythm 'n' blues and jazz dance. Performers include Dizzy Gillespie, Stevie Wonder, the Rev. James Cleveland, Willie Dixon and George Benson.
Most shows were taped at WETA's studios in Arlington, using a colorful street scene set against which host Oscar Brown Jr. delivers a hip verbal and musical spiel about music. He also interviews the performers in the night club setting in which they appear.
Executive producer Charles Hobson said there were no more than the usual headaches in doing a TV series. "We had Al Green contracted," he recalled. "His band showed up, but he didn't. We sat around waiting for two days and still no Al Green. Finally, he called and said he got stuck at a fruit stand in Memphis."
Hobson said some of the younger WETA staff members had to be converted to the idea of doing jazz. "If the music was more than three or four weeks old, they didn't want to hear it," he said. "We had to spend a lot of long hours convincing them about jazz. I'd love to do a jazz series, but that's another story."