An American Art Form
May 21, 2009 5:06 PM   Subscribe

NEA Jazz in the Schools takes a step-by-step journey through the history of jazz, integrating that story with the sweep of American social, economic, and political developments. This multi-media curriculum is designed to be as useful to high school history and social studies teachers as it is to music teachers. Start with the introductory video to get a feel for the place. The education outline contains five lessons. If you just want to listen, all the music samples are on one page. Perhaps you're more interested in individual artist biographies, or a jazz history timeline.

These lessons are designed as units; five units serve as a week-long curriculum.

NEW ORLEANS: MELTING POT OF SOUND — Jazz grew out of the African-American community at the turn of the 20th century, a time when blacks were being denied their most basic rights. The music has since become a part of every American’s birthright, a timeless symbol of American individualism and ingenuity, American democracy and inclusiveness. The birthplace of jazz is New Orleans, the most cosmopolitan city in the South.

THE JAZZ AGE AND CHICAGO — In the 1920s, jazz spread rapidly all across America. The rise of jazz was part of a new, post–World War I optimism, a prevailing sense that something new was happening, that America was finally breaking from European culture and coming into its own. Novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald called the new era the Jazz Age.

FROM SWING TO BOP — With the decline in popularity of swing bands and the rise of singers as pop stars, many jazz musicians in the mid-1940s retreated to smaller groups of five or six instruments that were easier to organize, were cheaper to book in clubs, and provided more freedom for individual musicians to express themselves.

NEW FRONTIER — The 1960s are virtually synonymous with social and political upheaval in America, and with a popular culture nourished by intrepid experimentation and a rejection of traditional symbols of authority. Of course, in the world of jazz, musicians had already been responding to—and carrying out—upheavals in American society for some time.

AN AMERICAN STORY — Jazz is the purest expression of the American spirit—innovative, independent, and, ultimately, revolutionary. The history of jazz is inextricably linked with the political, geographic, and cultural history of America, and to understand the evolution of this music is to grasp the passion and genuine humanity at the heart of American democracy.
posted by netbros (11 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks. Will use it next school year! (Am using it now to postpone grading essays.)
posted by kozad at 5:38 PM on May 21, 2009

This is wonderful. This is such a magnificent use of federal agency resources. More and more, please!
posted by Miko at 6:39 PM on May 21, 2009

I was lying awake the other night, thinking about avenues of history that I wanted to pursue, and as I thought about my understanding of music history, I realized that early jazz was actually a huge knowledge hole for me, and I thought it was an area of learning that seemed both fun and fruitful, since I enjoy music so much, and I decided I'd brush up a bit on the subject.

Are you reading my brainwaves or something?
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:54 PM on May 21, 2009

The Ken Burns series Jazz helped me to 'get' jazz, and filled in a lot of early 20th century American music history too. Just throwing that in for anyone on a self-educating spree.
posted by Miko at 8:01 PM on May 21, 2009

Hey, this is great, and once you get past bebop it knocks Ken Burns into a cocked hat. Including Cecil Taylor and Anthony Braxton is hardcore. I'm glad our children is learning jazz!
posted by languagehat at 6:20 AM on May 22, 2009

Great post!
posted by caddis at 7:43 AM on May 22, 2009

unlike the smooth, pulsing flow of swing, these new [bebop] melodies were typically jagged and uneven, designed to catch listeners off guard.

The part of jazz history that most fascinates me is the transition to bebop. To my ear, it was a total revolution - a radical break that sounded utterly different from what had come before. Like other jazz histories, this one presents it almost as though the music created itself.

How did the founding beboppers conceive this new sound? What were their esthetic intentions? How did they hammer out the technical features of the music? The closest thing I've found to such a history is an online timeline - can't find it now - that included entries along the line of "Parker first uses a flatted fifth in a solo." That kind of thing would be illuminating, but I also want to know what was going on behind the scenes, in musical terms. Can anyone suggest some sources?
posted by Greenie at 8:50 AM on May 22, 2009

To my ear, it was a total revolution - a radical break that sounded utterly different from what had come before.

To me, it sounds like a thousand little "what ifs?" played by some very talented musucians.
posted by kersplunk at 9:37 AM on May 22, 2009

> Can anyone suggest some sources?

My first recommendation is a fantastic book I recommend to everyone who has trouble parsing jazz, Barry Kernfeld's What to Listen For in Jazz (Amazon, Google Books). Kernfeld covers this on pages 191 ff.; here's an excerpt:
When bop (equally well known as bebop) began to be recorded in 1944- 45 and thereby to reach a substantial audience, critics received it as a revolution in jazz style... What matters here is a stylistic perspective from a later time, which corrected the first impression. It became apparent that bop resulted not from a revolution but from a gradual, almost seamless transformation of small-combo swing, from which it developed in New York City between the end of the 1930s and the mid-1940s. Indeed, swing and bop share more musical conventions than any other pair of the five principal styles.... The crucial difference is a rhythmic jaggedness that characterized bop, not swing. On Koko (track 17) this jaggedness is evident in the melodic lines, in the rhythms of the drum set, and to a lesser extent in the sparse chords; it contrasts with the deliberate and steady line of the string bass, which in bop carries the principal responsibility for timekeeping. Hand in hand with this jaggedness comes a lessening of tunefulness....
(The book comes with a CD that is one of the best overviews of jazz I've heard.) One reason we have a hard time following the transition from swing to bop is the very unfortunate timing of the 1942-44 musicians' strike, which kept recordings from being issued at precisely the time bop was being developed.

The other source I would recommend is the final chapter of Gunther Schuller's magisterial The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz, 1930-1945 (Amazon, Google Books). It is far and away the best thing on its period; for years I eagerly awaited the promised followup, but after 20 years I've pretty much given up on it. (Damn you, Schuller!) But chapter 10, "Things to Come," has a nice quick preview of coming events, also taking the position that "what happened then [the change to bop] was as much evolution as it was revolution."
posted by languagehat at 10:47 AM on May 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm a swing dancer, and that sounds like a must-read.
posted by Miko at 11:41 AM on May 22, 2009

We got our copy in the mail this past week, and will be implementing it in our general music classes for next school year.
posted by bach at 6:28 PM on May 23, 2009

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