Musical Topic: Jazz

Duke Ellington (1899-1974)
Dave Brubeck (1920-)
Louis Armstrong (1900-1971)
Miles Davis (1926-1991)

Historical Introduction
Jazz is America’s most distinctive and world renowned musical contribution. The origins of jazz are intimately tied to American history and especially Black history: jazz reflects their suffering and resiliency.

The emphasis in jazz is on rhythm, with syncopated accents and percussion reflecting the African culture of the Black slaves. The feature of improvisation (the spontaneous creative individualistic interpretations of initial melodic lines) reflects the spontaneity of the plantation work songs and Black spirituals. With the conclusion of the Civil War and President Lincoln’s abolition of slavery, the Black communities gravitated to the cities. In New Orleans the Blacks encountered a rich musical environment with Creole, French, and Spanish influences. Various groups of Blacks would band together, gather on busy street corners, and, in competitive fashion, "chat” to each other musically. A complex and sophisticated evolution began, and jazz was born.

The American term "jazz” is derived from the French "jasser – to gossip.” As these early groups played in parades, funerals, and on street corners a unique tradition emerged. New Orleans can be considered the birthplace of instrumental jazz. In the 1890’s ragtime was popularized by Scott Joplin. As these groups started touring in the 1900’s jazz became popular in Chicago, New York, and Kansas City. The vocal "blues” began to emerge at this time as well. Love lost and poverty were common "blues” themes.

I can’t make a nickel,
I’m flat as can be;
Some people say money is talking,
But it won’t say a word to me…”
"Hard Time Blues”

After World War I jazz bands became increasingly popular. Louis Armstrong introduced "scat” and Duke Ellington popularized "jungle” sounds by using a mute. Benny Goodman’s swing band also belonged to this dynamic post-World War I, pre World War II period. (Note: See also Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie, Glen Miller, and King Oliver.)

In the 1950’s progressive "cool” jazz evolved. In contrast to the earlier developments this "jazz” was meant to be listened to, rather than danced to. Dave Brubeck and Thelonius Monk participated in these developments. Jazz continued to develop and in the last part of the 20th Century "high tech” jazz using synthesizers (Spyro Gyra, Pat Metheny, etc.), easy listening romantic jazz with saxophones (Kenny G, etc.) added to the rich musical variety known as American jazz.

Lesson Opportunities
1. Listening Opportunities - Jazz
1. Louis Armstong: "Beale Street Blues
2. Duke Ellington Orchestra: "Cotton Tail”
3. Count Basie Orchestra: "Jumpin at the Woodside”
4. Benny Goodman: "Sing, Sing, Sing”
5. Sarah Vaughn: Send in the Clouns”
6. Ella Fitzgerald: "Let’s Begin”
7. Miles Davis: "So What”
8. Dave Brubeck Quartet: "Take Five”
9. Ken Burns The Best of Jazz and the CDs developed for his PBS Special on Jazz.
10. The Ella Fitzgerald Songbooks.

2. Music – History/ Geography - Explore the historical and geographic contexts of jazz styles such as Ragtime (and the piano), New Orleans, Dixieland, Swing, Bee-Bop, Cool, Latin, Soul (and its use of the Hammond organ), etc.