[ Login ]
lesson plan12345678

Student Handout

The Story of Jazz (Unit 4)

Jazz royalty reined during Swing
With a Count and a Duke and a King
People danced to the beat
Clapped their hands, moved their feet
There just was no stopping this thing.


Our trip today is to the Harlem neighborhood of New York City. We’ll take a horse drawn carriage through Central Park to get to Harlem. Would you like to drive the carriage? The time of our visit is the mid- 1920s through the mid-1930s, known as the Harlem Renaissance. During this time, works by African American authors, poets, artists and musicians began to receive attention from the nation as a whole. Before we go uptown to Harlem, let’s stop in at the Roseland Ballroom a few blocks south of the park. Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra is playing at the Roseland Ballroom (click here to hear the music). Mr. Henderson was one of the first to write arrangements for big bands and some of the most famous jazz musicians got their start in his band. Listen to how the call and response is now between the sections of the band rather than individual musicians. Ordinarily the Roseland Ballroom has only white customers but we are here on a night when both black and white customers are allowed to enter. Notice the rope down the center of the dance floor to keep it segregated.

The economy of the United States changed drastically during this decade. Employment opportunities had brought many African Americans to the North in the 1920s and incomes were quite high - so high the time was known as the Roaring Twenties. This all ended suddenly in 1929 when the stock market crashed, causing many businesses to fail. The time that followed is known as the Great Depression. So many people were without jobs that Franklin D. Roosevelt, President of the United States, created the Works Progress Administration as part of his "New Deal" plan to provide jobs and income for out-of-work Americans. Improving Central Park was one of the WPA projects.

Harlem was a very important neighborhood during this time. Not only did many talented and well-educated African Americans live there, it was home to the headquarters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and The Urban League. We will need to take the subway to get to there. Can you find which is the fastest train to Harlem?

Pick one:
‘A’ train
‘B’ train
‘C’ train
Do you know which big band leader recorded a song about this subway train? See if you can find the right band.

Click here to hear the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra.
Click here to hear the Cab Calloway Orchestra.
Click here to hear the Duke Ellington Orchestra.

Dancing was a way people could temporarily forget about their money problems and was especially popular among young people. In the early 1930s Americans loved to visit large ballrooms to dance to a style of jazz called Swing, played by big bands. Many jazz fans refer to this time as the Big Band Swing era. There were many different dances but the one most popular was called the Lindy Hop which was also known as the jitterbug.

Our first stop in Harlem will be the Savoy Ballroom which could hold as many as 4,000 dancers. They have two stages so the music never stops. Chick Webb and his Orchestra is the house band and plays on the larger stage while the guest band plays on the smaller stage. Sometimes the guest band will challenge Webb’s band in what is called a battle of the bands. They would often play the same song so the audience could decide which band played best. Listen to Chick Webb and his Orchestra (click here), then the Benny Goodman Orchestra (click here), and decide which you like best.

Choose the one you think played best:
Benny Goodman Orchestra
Chick Webb Band

Notice that the dance floor at the Savoy is integrated. The management here always welcomed both black and white customers. Check out the broadcast booth in the corner. People all over the United States could now listen to jazz because it was being broadcast nationwide over the radio (click here to listen in).

Before we go to another nightclub, let’s check out a rent party. Remember, times were tough financially so people had to find ways to raise money to pay the rent and buy food. One way was to invite musicians to perform at your house and charge admission. Tonight the musicians are three piano players who will have a cutting contest to see who is the best. First is Willie “The Lion” Smith (click here to listen). Next we’ll hear Art Tatum (click here to listen). And finally, here is Fats Waller (click here to listen).

You can choose the one you think should win:
Willie “The Lion” Smith
Art Tatum
Fats Waller

Our last stop in Harlem will be at the Cotton Club where we find the Duke Ellington Orchestra playing his big hit "Take the 'A' Train" (click here to hear the tune). The policy at the Cotton Club was all the performers in the elaborate floor shows were African American and all the customers were white. Duke Ellington’s band played at the Cotton Club for more than three years. After he left, the next band to perform at the Cotton Club was led by Cab Calloway. Let’s hop in the time machine and return to the Cotton Club a year or so from now and catch him performing his big hit "Minnie The Moocher" (click here to listen in). Notice that the call & response is now between Mr. Calloway and his band members singing rather than playing their instruments.

Experience the Music: Play the next track and sing back the response. [Audio #3 with response removed]

It’s time to get back on the subway to our hotel. Our next tour will also be in New York City but will be in the 1940s on 52nd Street.

The Harlem Renaissance

While the Harlem Renaissance, which marked the first time that mainstream publishers took African American literature seriously, was primarily a literary movement, the number of well-educated, talented African Americans living in Harlem provided an audience base for the many Harlem jazz clubs. People of all races came to dance to the music and see the shows. The National Urban League was founded in 1910 to assist black Americans, newly arrived from the South, with the social and economic problems they encountered as they resettled. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded in 1909 to promote the rights of blacks.

Both of the organizations published magazines and periodicals featuring articles and literary works by African Americans. These publications helped all Americans become aware of the rich cultural scene in Harlem. Thousands of sophisticated New Yorkers, black and white, were drawn to Harlem’s exotic and exciting nightlife thus creating many employment opportunities for musicians.


battle of the bands: Contest between two performing ensembles to determine which plays the best.

big band: Jazz ensemble of 12-20 members, consisting of a rhythm section plus sections of trumpets, trombones & saxophones.

call and response: Musical conversation. One musician or section will play a short melodic idea and is answered by another musician or section.

cutting contest: Musical game of one-upmanship where the performers attempt to outdo each other.

Depression: Decrease in business activity for an extended period of time.

Harlem: The best known African American neighborhood in the United States, located in Manhattan North of Central Park. It has been a center for black business and cultural activities for more than sixty years.

Harlem Renaissance: Time in American History (1920 - late 1930s) when African American literature, art and music began to flourish in New York City.

jitterbug: A lively dance for couples, usually done to swing music. Also known as the Lindy Hop.

jukebox: An automatic phonograph that plays recordings when money is inserted in coin slot.

Lindy Hop: Another name for the jitterbug.

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP): A civil rights organization in the United States that works to end discrimination against African Americans and other minorities.

New Deal: President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s plan to pull the nation out of the economic slump known as The Great Depression.

rent party: A gathering in one’s home for which an admission fee is charged in order to raise money to pay the rent or other bills.

segregated: racially separated

stock market: Place where investors may purchase “shares” or small increments of a business.

Swing, Swing style jazz: A style of jazz in which the eighth notes are played unevenly (long-short) and syncopation is employed. Great music for dancing.

Urban League: An organization that works to end racial discrimination and increase economic and political opportunities for blacks and other minorities in the United States.

Works Progress Administration (WPA): A United States government agency created in 1935 to provide paying jobs for unemployed workers.
the Herbie Hancock institute of jazz
home overview lesson plans jazz resources what's new jazz in america