This is an update to a blog post from 2014
April is Jazz Appreciation Month. When we as music educators hear about using music from our culture, we think of old folk songs, maybe contemporary favorites that our students like. Do we ever consider jazz, seeing as it’s the true American art form? If you’re like me with very little jazz background (except for “stage” band in high school), you might want to know how to get started. Do we play the music? Do we study the musicians? How in-depth do we get? (Obviously, there are jazz musicians who have had terrible lives.) And the Big Question: How do I keep them engaged?
Try a jazz musician talk show. This activity provides the opportunity to let your students practice their researching skills, discern important information, use critical thinking, and throw in some drama. Additionally, the students will learn to discern pieces of information and hopefully learn about the roots of jazz and the history of the time.
So, you say, how do I put this all together?
- Make sure you cover yourself by sending a letter home about the project with links, letting parents know that, if students decide to do their own research, you have provided the links. You can also add them to Google Classroom or other similar platforms, or in the parent portal if possible.
- Determine which musicians should make the list. Consider diversity (race, gender, vocal vs. instrumental, style). Don’t shirk anything in a musician’s history that might be questionable, based on the ages of your students. For instance, I kept references that mentioned Billie Holiday’s drug problem on my list. My activity was geared towards fifth graders, and they were in DARE in fifth grade. However, I would not include any resources that would mention how Billie got raped or that she worked for a while as a prostitute. I would use them in a high school music appreciation class. Plus, consider the personalities of your students and what they are learning in their social studies. I always included Scott Joplin because he had lived in Missouri, as did Charlie Parker. If you have older students who are in social studies classes focusing on racial issues, Benny Goodman would be a good choice, since he integrated his orchestras.
- Find your websites. (I have a way to get you started at the end. But no fair peeking!) Again, consider your “audience”. There are a variety of sites such as Biography.com that will have most if not all the musicians you want. And again, don’t give any websites that might mention Scott Joplin’s syphilis if you are doing the project with fifth grade. If you use Google Classroom or Seesaw, you have a perfect spot for all those websites. I will have a list of books at the end of the blog to add to your “Dear M. Librarian, do you have these?” list.
- Show a slideshow with just a SMIDGEN of the information for whatever musicians you had selected. You want just enough to tease the students so they will have a better idea of which musician they want to select.
- Talk to the students about group rules. (Check my article on group work on Music ConstructED for some ideas.)
- Divide the class into groups.
- The group members need to decide on jobs: who will play the musician, the talk show host, and other jobs, such as sound, props, a director, cue card person, etc. It was their decision how to divide the jobs, how everyone needed to stay on task, and to report to me if there was someone who was not cooperating (backed by my observations).
- For the first step, the groups should research their musician. There are various books for students that are about jazz musicians, plus age-appropriate websites (listed at the end of this blog).
- The group members should then compile 10 questions AFTER their research. Don’t let them get away with: “When did you die? “When were you born?”, etc. I had explained to my students that talk show hosts (or at least, good ones) and reporters do a little background work and formulate their questions based on what they already know about their subjects, so the interview would be more interesting.
- As students compile their questions, they should write a script and begin to formulate their performance. You can decide if they can use cue cards, but if you do, they need to practice.
- If the students were on task and had time, I would let them create a short commercial for fun, but the commercial would not be allowed if the focus was taken away from the talk show.
Performance day was always so much fun! Sometimes, unfortunately, the students were reading from the cue cards and had not made good use of their time. Some of the performances were wonderful! The students learned a new respect for jazz, as well as teamwork. I loved it if students got all into it and brought costumes and props.
It’s a busy time of year, so you probably don’t have the time to get all this together to do this. However, just start “collecting” websites and make a list of books to give to the librarian. Your students are going to enjoy the “drama” and retain the information.
For Younger Students:
Birth of the Cool
Duke Ellington: His Life in Jazz
Who Was Louis Armstrong?
The Story of Ella Fitzgerald
These are all suggestions. There are quite a few biographies of famous people you can search for.
And there you have it! The older your class, the more responsibility you can put on your students. Provide them with the materials they need, get them into groups, and sit back and enjoy the show.
To give you a head start on websites, I have included a file in the shared folder for those who subscribe to Dr. Stafford’s Musical Boosters. The PDF includes websites for Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, and Ella Fitzgerald. Subscribers have access to a shared folder, so if you choose to opt-in, you have access to past freebies as well.
New in the TPT Store:
With this listening/journaling activity, your younger students listen to a variety of jazz pieces from a variety of musicians, read a little bit about the musician, and then answer a question based on their feelings and the listening example. They can then take all the pages and put them together as a little booklet. Activity includes the following reproducibles: biography pages, question pages, and a cover page. There are also thorough teacher directions and ideas, plus links to the listening examples. My second graders found this to be a great, relaxing April activity to do over the course of a week or two.
What ideas do you have for teaching jazz? Send ideas you wouldn’t mind having me post, and I will share them with other readers on another blog post, with credit to you. Jazz can be tricky to teach, so it’s wonderful to have input from a number of professionals-you, the teachers. ?