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What is Jazz?






1. National Center for History in the Schools, UCLA

2. NAfME: The National Association for Music Education

3. For information on ordering The Instrumental History of Jazz 2-CD set, go to www.amazon.com (item #B000001YNU).

4. Student handouts may be down loaded from the Jazz in America website (www.jazzinamerica.org), printed, and photocopied.

5. Any material from the Jazz in America website (www.jazzinamerica.org) may be down loaded, printed, and made into a transparency as the instructor sees fit.


Teachers may use the following topics at their discretion, based on the experiences of their particular students. For example, if students already have a basic understanding of the elements of music, teachers may omit topic 4. This lesson plan can also be divided into smaller lesson plans to accommodate classroom schedules.

  1. Course Introduction for the Teacher
  2. What is Jazz?
  3. Jazz Recordings
  4. Basic Musical Elements
  5. Improvisation
  6. Jazz Sounds
  7. Rhythm
  8. A Perfect Democracy
  9. Where Did Jazz Come From?
  10. Ragtime: The Precursor to Jazz


National Standards for United States History1 (grades 5-12)
Students should be able to:
  1. appreciate historical perspectives (Historical Comprehension Standard 2f).
  2. draw upon visual, literary, and musical sources including...folk, popular and classical music, to clarify, illustrate, or elaborate upon information presented in the historical narrative (Historical Comprehension Standard 2i).
  3. draw comparisons across eras and regions in order to define enduring issues as well as large-scale or long-term developments that transcend regional and temporal boundaries (Historical Analysis and Interpretation Standard 3d).
  4. analyze...the influence of ideas (Historical Analysis and Interpretation Standard 3e).
  5. the influence of the past (Historical Analysis and Interpretation 3j).
National Standards for Music Education2 (grades K-12)
Students will be:
  1. Singing, alone and with others. (Standard #1)
  2. Improvising melodies, variations, and accompaniments. (Standard #3)
  3. ...arranging music within specified guidelines. (Standard #4)
  4. Listening to, analyzing, and describing music. (Standard #6)
  5. Evaluating music and music performances. (Standard #7)
  6. Understanding music in relation to history and culture. (Standard #9)


The student will:
  1. gain a fundamental understanding of jazz
  2. gain a fundamental understanding of basic musical elements
  3. gain a fundamental understanding of the musical elements of jazz
  4. gain a fundamental understanding of how, where, and by whom jazz originated
  5. gain a fundamental understanding of jazz as a metaphor for democracy
  6. gain a basic understanding of why jazz is America’s music

  1. CD player
  2. chalkboard (with chalk and eraser)
  3. overhead projector (optional)
  4. computer logged onto www.jazzinamerica.org (optional)

  1. The Instrumental History of Jazz3 (IHJ) (optional)
    1. two CDs
    2. accompanying booklet
  2. student handouts4 (one per student)
  3. overhead projector transparencies5


The instructor will:
  1. distribute student handouts
  2. discuss basic elements of music
  3. discuss the basic elements and origins of jazz
  4. discuss the roles of people in a democratic society using jazz as a metaphor
    1. individual freedom
    2. responsibility to the group
    3. leadership
  5. play jazz recordings, discussing with the students what they heard
  6. discuss why jazz is considered America's music


The students will:
    participate in a class discussion regarding:
    1. "what is jazz"
    2. the basic elements of music
    3. the basic elements and origins of jazz
    4. why jazz is considered America's music
  1. compare improvisation with regular conversation
  2. listen to various jazz saxophonists to compare and contrast their individual sounds (tone)
  3. listen to jazz recordings
  4. follow and interact with the animated student handout entitled "Journey #1: New Orleans, Louisiana" (click the Student Handout button on the left-hand side of your screen)


A Test Bank is provided that includes questions in the four formats listed below. At the teacher's discretion, all of the questions in each test bank may be used, or a few questions from each format may be selected to compile a shorter test.
  1. Multiple Choice
  2. Fill in the Blanks
  3. True / False
  4. Matching


The following topics and activities are covered in the Student Handout:
  1. Destination and Dates: New Orleans, early 1900's

  2. Historical Event: Emancipation Proclamation (1863)

  3. Vocabulary:
    cake walk
    call and response
    collective improvisation
    Congo Square
    Emancipation Proclamation
    Jim Crow laws
    New Orleans style jazz
    player piano
    work song

  4. Experience the Music
    Found throughout each handout, this section provides students with an activity to help them Experience the Music firsthand.

    WORK SONG: Students create a song to fit activity.

    CALL and RESPONSE: Students provide a "response" to a recorded "call."

  5. Jazz Artists:
    Louis Armstrong
    Sidney Bechet
    Scott Joplin
    Huddie "Leadbelly" Leadbetter
    King Oliver
    Kid Ory
    Joe Williams

the Herbie Hancock institute of jazz
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