It’s time to celebrate Jazz Appreciation Month and teach your students about the rich history of jazz music. Jazz is an American art form that has been around for over a century, and it’s a genre that has influenced countless musicians across the world.
When teaching about jazz, it’s important to highlight the African American influence on the genre. Jazz music has its roots in African American communities, and many of the genre’s most famous musicians, such as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, were Black. By emphasizing the African American influence on jazz, you can help your students understand the importance of diversity and inclusivity in music and in society as a whole.
One way to incorporate diversity and inclusivity into your jazz lessons is by using the concept of “windows and mirrors” in your classroom. Mirrors are resources that reflect back the identities and experiences of your students, while windows are resources that provide opportunities for your students to learn about different cultures and experiences. By using both mirrors and windows in your jazz lessons, you can create a classroom environment that is welcoming and inclusive to all students.
Here are some tips for incorporating windows and mirrors into your jazz lessons:
Incorporate jazz-inspired art
Jazz music has inspired countless artists over the years, and incorporating jazz-inspired art into your classroom is a great way to celebrate the genre’s visual culture. This could include everything from jazz album covers to paintings and sculptures inspired by jazz music. Personally, I’m partial to the Orff Schulwerk method and love using it to get creative with students. No two lessons are exactly the same, and I love that!
Take this picture as an example. In it we see flowing lines, brushed-on blobs of color, swirls on shoulders, musicians jamming out. One “conductor” can lead the whole class in movement and/or song by pointing to different parts of the painting. Maybe they never pick their finger up, so they have to follow the lines. Or maybe the colors each represent a different mood or instrument. It’s okay for this to be improvisatory. After all, we’re doing jazz!
Use diverse jazz musicians as examples
When teaching about jazz musicians, make sure to highlight musicians from a variety of backgrounds. This will help your students see themselves reflected in the music, and also learn about the contributions of different cultures to the jazz genre In addition to greats like Charlie Parker and Ella Fitzgerald, make sure students can see modern jazz musicians. Not only does this provide a more inclusive view of jazz history, but it also helps students understand how the genre has evolved over time and the different cultural influences that have shaped it. Plus I’m sure by now you’ve had students gasp at the fact that you were (probably) born “in the 1900’s”. Jazz shouldn’t seem antique to them – make sure they know that jazz is alive and well!
That being said, be careful to not assume prior knowledge. Your students may not actually know about any famous jazz musicians – oldies but goodies included! That’s why I like to introduce them using picture books and easy activities, like these, which can even be left for a sub.
Encourage creativity and improvisation
Jazz music has inspired countless artists over the years, and incorporating jazz-inspired art into your classroom is a great way to celebrate the genre’s visual culture. This could include everything from jazz album covers to paintings and sculptures inspired by jazz music.
Not sure how to teach improvisation? It’s not your fault – conservatory-style undergraduate music programs don’t usually prepare us for that. I like to start out with a simple and fun lesson that both you and your students will be comfortable with. Ideally you would use barred instruments for this, but anything – even unpitched percussion – will do.
Choose a simple backing track. Give students two notes to work with – that’s it! The less decisions they have to make, the better. As students improvise over the backing track, they’ll gain confidence. After all, their improv will sound good no matter what! Keep adding on notes until they are comfortably improvising within a chord.
Teaching about jazz music is a fun and engaging way to celebrate Jazz Appreciation Month, and by incorporating the African American influence on the genre and emphasizing diversity and inclusivity in the classroom, you can help your students develop a deeper appreciation for the music and for different cultures and experiences. So let’s get jazzy, and celebrate the power of music to bring people together!