Jazz is a relevant subject matter not just in music classes, but also in social studies, history, writing, and other arts classes: The story of jazz is also the story of the United States, the story of how jazz has spread throughout the world is the story of U.S. and international cultures in interaction, and the lessons jazz can teach about individual as well as collaborative expression can apply to all students, whether or not they are musicians.
It's possible to share some of these lessons in just a few classroom sessions, or even in a few minutes dedicated to jazz.
Jazz-related Classroom Activities.
- Play your favorite jazz recordings in your classroom (or, if possible, show short YouTube clips of jazz artists performing your favorites. It's easy to search for them, and students like being able to see as well as hear the music.) Call it a "jazz party!" Discuss what you like about the music with your students. Ask them what they like-- or don't. (Make it OK not to like it! But ask students to be specific about what they don't like: the "old-fashioned" sound? the instruments used? that it's hard to sing along or that there are no singers? Ask them if they can think of some music they do like that might be considered jazz. And encourage students who do like jazz and even play it themselves to talk about what they like about it and who their favorite jazz musicians are. Young jazz fans don't always get a chance to be heard by their peers.)
- If you don't know much about jazz yourself (or even if you do, but want to bring another voice or perspective into your classroom) ask a local expert --a musician or jazz journalist-- to conduct the listening session or give a talk to your class. The Jazz Journalists Association offers to connect teachers with knowledgable, articulate jazz journalists -- the writers, broadcasters, photographers and new media producers who are most familiar with local jazz activities, and so can lecture intelligently about what's happening now and how it's connected to local culture, history and traditions. Email us at email@example.com for information.
- Ask your students to draw or write about how jazz makes them feel or think. Display the results in your classroom. If you have a class website, post them there.
- Take photos or videos (smart phones are great for this) of your students listening to jazz, or have them take them of themselves or each other. Show the results to the class and have students talk about the reactions to jazz that they show. (Don't post the photos/videos online unless you have written parental permission.)
- Ask your students to interview their parents and grandparents or other older friends and relatives about whether they listened to jazz when they were young (or do now). Did they go to jazz concerts or dances? What was that like? Who were their favorite jazz musicians? Have them share the results with the class and talk about how it compares with their own music listening experiences.
- Older students might be able to research the history of jazz in your town or city. Who were the best-known local musicians? Did they become nationally known? What kind of jazz did they play? Are they still around? What local jazz musicians are playing now? It's easy these days to research much of this online.
- Schedule a performance by your school jazz ensemble. Can it be a social event -- maybe a dance?
- Invite a local jazz musician and/or ensemble to perform for your class, after-school club, or perhaps entire school. Ask a local jazz journalist to interview the musicians onstage after the performance, or give a student journalist the chance to do so.
- Some local jazz musicians and groups may be scheduling open rehearsals or special educational performances for Jazz Appreciation Month/Jazz Day. If it's possible for you to schedule a field trip, ask around to find these local opportunities. (Unfortunately, there's no central registry.)
- Whatever you do, make jazz fun! While jazz is an important and serious art and means of expression, it's always also been a means of enjoyment and entertainment, and combining the two is the best way to produce new generations of listeners and preserve the jazz heritage.
- The Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, one of the leading forces working on UNESCO's International Jazz Day initiative has a free, rich, in-depth online "Jazz in the Classroom" website. It includes a Jazz in America national jazz curriculum designed to be taught in 5th, 8th and 11th grade American history and social studies classrooms, and a Jazz Resource Library. There is a related curriculum that deals exclusively with Jazz and Blues. These webpages are full of lesson plans, jazz videos, audio examples, easily downloadable student handouts and useful links. The curriculums are aligned with prevailing National Standards in the areas of American History, Social Science and the Arts. If you have only one or a couple of days to teach about jazz, it's possible to select lessons to fit that schedule.
- Smithsonian Jazz, sponsor of Jazz Appreciation Month, also has resources for teaching about jazz on its website, including materials for a class on What is Jazz? and Groovin' to Jazz (ages 8-13) and Groovin' to Jazz (ages 12-15).
- Older high school and college students --and adults-- may wish to explore Columbia University's Jazz Studies Online, "a wide range of digital resources - journal articles, book chapters, magazines, teaching materials, talks, internet links, and performances - to represent the diversity and innovation in jazz studies. Some of the themes explored here are the impact of jazz on modern art, on cultural and social struggles, and on any field of human interaction that may involve improvisation."
- More lessons, websites and other resources from the Kennedy Center's ArtsEdge.
- Other things you can do to support JazzApril/Jazz Appreciation Month/Jazz Day:
- Help us spread the word on social media: If you are on Twitter use the hashtags #jazzapril #jazzday #celebrateJAM . Tell your Facebook friends about the campaign. Be sure to include the URL of this site http://jazzapril.com
- Add the Jazz April "ribbon" to your Twitter or Facebook icons.
- If you are on a listserv or Google/Yahoo/Facebook Group whose other members would be interested in participating in JazzApril, tell them about it. Be sure to include the URL of this site http://jazzapril.com