Closer Readings Commentary

Jazz Appreciation Month: JAM

I can only hope that one day America will recognize that our indigenous music — jazz — is the heart and soul of all popular music, and that we cannot afford to let its legacy slip into obscurity." — Quincy Jones

“The spirit of jazz is the spirit of openness.” — Herbie Hancock

The National Museum of American History has designated April as Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM). In partnership with the National Endowment for the Humanities as well as several other national organizations, JAM sponsors a number of 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.

April was chosen for JAM, now in its twelfth year, in recognition of the birthdays of jazz greats such as Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Gerry Mulligan, and Tito Puente. In 2013, JAM honors jazz legends Lionel Hampton, Andy Weston, and John Levy. You can learn more about these three great musical innovators at the JAM website. You can also download the 2013 JAM Poster, a 1997 portrait of Lionel Hampton by the late Frederick J. Brown, an African American artist whose passion for jazz, blues, and American culture provided the artistic inspiration for this work. 

For JAM’s twelfth anniversary, the theme is  “The Spirit and Rhythm of Jazz.” Throughout the month, online, in-museum, and community programs will highlight jazz cultural history, musical performance and stories, programs and productions. JAM and UNESCO's International Jazz Day, April 30, provides rich platforms for individuals and communities to explore jazz principles of freedom, inclusion, and creativity in order to learn how jazz has transformed American and inspired the world. You can find a list of events in the Washington, DC metropolitan area here.

Jazz appreciation, however, encompasses so much more than recognition of these iconic artists and it relies upon educators, societies, libraries, museums, and musicians from across the country to promote and teach this unique cultural expression.

To learn more about how you can celebrate jazz in your community, visit How 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:

Jazz Inside and Outside the Classroom

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 Strayhorn: 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.

Online Jazz Collections

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 Education

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. 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.


— Back to Top —

International Jazz

JazzInstitut Darmstadt. Besides a description of its large archival collection in Germany, the JazzInstitut website contains a comprehensive list of other international organizations, workshops, musicians, and clubs.

Researching Jazz

Below is a list of possible topics that students might explore in classroom discussion or as a research project.

  • Billie Holiday and the Song “Strange Fruit”
  • Josephine Baker, the World War II Underground French Resistance, and 1950s Civil Rights Activism
  • Jazz in Nazi Germany and World War II Concentration Camps
  • Louis Armstrong and Desegregation in Little Rock, Arkansas
  • The State Department Jazz Tours of the 1950s and 60s featuring Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, and Dave Brubeck
  • Jazz Behind the Iron Curtain
  • Willis Conover and Voice of America
  • Jazz and the Civil Rights Movement
  • The Zoot Suit Riots

Featured Lessons

Featured articles from Humanities

Featured Websites


— Back to Top —

Subjects & Topic Music