All music is beautiful. ― Billy Strayhorn
The National Museum of American History has designated April as Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM). JAM sponsors programs to promote jazz, including concerts, lectures, educational materials, and exhibitions. Details about events and materials related to JAM can be found at the website Smithsonian Jazz.
For its fourteenth anniversary, JAM celebrates composer and pianist Billy Strayhorn (1915–1967). The joyful portrait of Strayhorn featured in this year’s JAM poster was painted by artist Keith Henry Brown.
Strayhorn is perhaps best known for his collaborative work spanning three decades with bandleader and composer Duke Ellington, having composed such jazz classics as “Take the ‘A’ Train.” He also composed hits like “Day Dream,” “Lotus Blossom,” and “Lush Life.” “‘A’ Train” became one of the signature pieces of the Duke Ellington Orchestra and has been widely recorded by other musicians such as Cab Calloway, Lawrence Welk, Phyllis Hyman, and Bobby McFerrin.
NEH supported the New York Foundation for the Arts for the production of Billy Strayhorn: Lush Life, which aired on PBS in 2006. A biography of Strayhorn is available in the 2006 November/December issue of Humanities magazine.
Jazz appreciation encompasses much more than recognition of iconic artists; it relies upon educators, societies, libraries, museums, and musicians from across the country to promote and teach this unique cultural expression.
Throughout the month, online, in-museum, and community programs will highlight jazz cultural history, musical performance and stories, programs and productions. To learn more about how you can celebrate jazz in your community, visit 112 Ways to Celebrate Jazz Appreciation Month. Also, we would love to hear how you intend to teach or recognize jazz in April. Email NEH jazz representative Josh Sternfeld with your stories: firstname.lastname@example.org.
As any musician or fan will tell you, jazz cannot be taught through textbooks alone. Understanding that learning about jazz and its history requires active listening, reading, and discussion, EDSITEment has compiled a brief list of Web links and topics to help educators and students in the classroom and beyond.
We encourage you to begin with the EDSITEment-reviewed website JAZZ, originally created as an accompaniment to the ten-part documentary by Ken Burns that aired on PBS and was funded, in part, by the National Endowment for the Humanities. The film and website tell the story of the origin of this American art form—the people who created it and the artists who performed it. Not simply a music appreciation course, the JAZZ website and documentary explore how the music reflected the historical periods that produced it, including two world wars, a Great Depression, and the decades of racial prejudice and Jim Crow laws that shaped the music and dictated who heard it and when.
The JAZZ website includes lesson plans appropriate for all grade levels that teachers can use in their classrooms. The activities and lesson plans are designed to help teachers use the video series and companion website in a variety of curriculum areas. The JAZZ website provides audio and video clips as well as transcripts of interviews with the musicians and scholars who contributed to the production of this film. In addition, PBS has developed another companion site, Jazz Kids, with young children in mind.
Two additional PBS documentaries supported by NEH chronicle aspects of jazz history. Billy Stray horn: Lush Life recounts the story of Billy Strayhorn, composer and long-time collaborator with Duke Ellington. Harlem in Montmartre documents the dynamic and turbulent history of jazz in France, from its early beginnings during World War I, to iconic performers such as Josephine Baker, Sidney Bechet, and Django Reinhardt.
EDSITEment has also included a series of lesson plans designed to teach the basic musical characteristics of jazz and the blues, along with the music’s wider social context. Learning the Blues takes students on a virtual trip to Memphis, Tennessee, where they will learn about the African American experience and compose their own blues lyrics. Jazz and World War II: A Rally to Resistance, A Catalyst for Victory will teach students about the many contributions by jazz artists to the war effort. In Romare Bearden’s The Dove: A Meeting of Vision and Sound students learn to appreciate how visual art and jazz intersect to tell us a story. Finally, Spirituals and Music from Across America, will encourage students to consider the variety of influences in the American music tradition.
Below is a list of additional sites that educators and students may use to create new lesson plans, start a research project, or learn about other organizations in the U.S. and abroad that are committed to furthering jazz education.
Chronicling America. Explore the Library of Congress and NEH’s joint project to digitize our nation’s historical newspapers by conducting a keyword search for “jazz.”
African American Sheet Music. Browse this extensive collection of early sheet music by African American composers for examples of early jazz and its musical predecessors such as ragtime and the blues.
The Red Hot Jazz Archive. This is the definitive online resource for learning about jazz before 1930. Read in-depth essays and biographies and listen to hundreds of recordings.
Jazz in America. Created by the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz with partial funding from NEH, this website offers new Internet-based jazz curriculum for social studies, American history, and music classes in the U.S. This is the first jazz/social studies curriculum using current Internet technology offered free of charge on a national basis.
The National Association for Music Education. The website for a national network dedicated to jazz education.
Jazz Studies Online. Founded by Columbia University’s Center for Jazz Studies, this website offers a wide selection of digital resources—journal articles, book chapters, magazines, teaching materials, talks, internet links, and performances—to represent the diversity and innovation in jazz studies.
Jazzinstitut Darmstadt. Besides a description of its large archival collection in Germany, the Jazz Institut website contains a comprehensive list of other international organizations, workshops, musicians, and clubs.
Below is a list of possible topics that students might explore in classroom discussion or as a research project.
The American South: Crucible of Jazz (see Featured Websites for State Encyclopedia articles)
The official poster for the Smithsonian National Museum of American History Jazz Appreciation Month 2015 features a painting of Billy Strayhorn by Keith Henry Brown.