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Student Handout

The Story of Jazz (Unit 7)

Jazz is a music of many styles now
And to be a good player one has to know how
Whether Bebop or Swing
Or a Latin Jazz thing
To play so well all the listeners say, "WOW."


Today we will visit two of the most famous and longest running jazz festivals in the United States. Our first stop will be the Monterey Jazz Festival on the California coast. Did you know that Monterey was the capital of California in the middle 1800s? In 1958, the first Monterey Jazz Festival was organized to help bring business to that city. Featuring many world class jazz musicians, it has continued successfully every year since then.

In Monterey we will be traveling on a "monorail time train" that can take us to any year of the festival. Hop in now and let’s visit the very first Monterey Jazz Festival in 1958. Dizzy Gillespie was asked to play the United States' National Anthem for the opening of the festival and he was happy to comply with this request. Click here to listen.

Experience the Music: Play the example again (click here) and decide if you hear Dizzy playing alone or with other musicians? Is Dizzy playing in a jazz style or playing it "straight?"

Jazz festivals are often held outside so many people can attend. Unexpected things can often happen when performing outside and jazz musicians respond spontaneously. In 1958, as the Dave Brubeck Quartet performed, an airplane flew overhead during Dave’s piano solo. Brubeck quickly played a quote from the United States Air Force Song, which begins with the lyrics, "Off we go, into the wild blue yonder." Click here to hear Dave perform.

Our next stop will be 1965 when we can catch the Charles Mingus Octet performing a protest song. Many important events concerning human rights were taking place in the sixties which caused the United States Congress to pass new Civil Rights laws. Some musicians expressed their political views through their music. The work Mingus is performing (click here to hear him) begins with a narration about a person’s need to be involved in decisions made by our government. Do you know which Amendment to the Constitution protects our right to free speech and to criticize our government? Choose one: 1st Amendment, 2nd Amendment, 3rd Amendment, or 4th Amendment. Do people all over the world have the same freedom?

Next we’ll visit 1977 and catch a performance by Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers. Performing in Blakey’s group was like going to jazz school and many jazz greats perfected their skills by playing in the Jazz Messengers. Blakey was uncompromising in his demands for quality from his musicians. Click here to listen in.

Experience the Music: Play the example again (click here). Do you hear a solo by one instrument or is it the ensemble?

Our last stop at the Monterey Jazz Festival will be in 1996 where we will hear Herbie Hancock perform his big hit, "Cantaloupe Island," which is an example of Jazz Rock Fusion. Many jazz musicians began to blend elements of jazz with elements of rock & roll to create this new jazz style. "Cantaloupe Island" has been a really big hit for Herbie and has even been used for several television commercials. To listen to this tune, click here.

It’s about 2,700 miles from Monterey, California to Newport, Rhode Island, so we’ll take a jet airliner to get us there fast. The pilot has asked if you would ride in the cockpit because he wants your help. The beautiful seaside city of Newport is where, in 1954, the very first American jazz festival was held. Every year since then there has been a "Newport Jazz Festival" although some years the events were not actually in the city of Newport and other years it was called by a sponsor’s name such as "JVC Jazz Festival Newport." Like Monterey, the city of Newport has a rich and interesting history. It was founded in 1639 by a group of families seeking religious freedom and by the late 1800s it had become the summer home of many wealthy New Yorkers. Still standing today are more than 300 historic buildings that were built in Colonial days.

Almost every important jazz musician has played Newport at one time or another. In attempts to make the festival available to larger audiences, in some years the festival has been held at venues in New York City, which is about 150 miles away from Newport. Our “time helicopter” will allow us to move through the many years of the festival as well as space to visit the various locations where Newport Jazz Festival events have taken place.

While the very first Newport Jazz Festival was held in 1954, our first stop will be the 1963 festival where we can catch the John Coltrane Quartet playing "My Favorite Things," which became Coltrane’s theme song and has been used for television commercials (click here to listen to it).

Let’s move along to the 1965 festival where we find the Thelonious Monk Quartet on stage. Like much of Monk’s music, this tune has a humorous feel to it (click here to hear it). Toward the end of this tune, the musicians began to improvise in a special way called "trading fours," which means the musicians take turns playing four bars or measures of music. In this case, it is the bassist and drummer who are taking turns (click here to hear them trading fours).

Experience the Music: Can you move your mouse to the drummer when you hear the drums and to the bassist when you hear the bass?

It’s time to leave Newport and go to the land of radio and television where we can see all the ways jazz has been important in the media. Our transportation is the airwave: hop on board and let’s get going!

The Impact of the Civil Rights Movement on Jazz

As barriers to housing, education, employment and services began to be broken down by the passing of Civil Rights laws, many things began to change throughout the country. Some African American jazz musicians wanted jazz to be more of a reflection of their African roots. With a return to blues and gospel sounds mixed with modern jazz, a style some people called Soul Jazz began to appear.


backup singers: Vocalists who sing responses to phrases sung by lead singer.

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

Civil Rights Act of 1964: A United States law that bans discrimination because of a person’s race, color, national origin, religion or gender. The rights protected include seeking employment, voting and the use of hotels, restaurants, parks and other public places.

gospel music: Style of music with influence of church, blues and jazz.

jazz festival: A performance of multiple jazz groups, often in an outdoor setting.

Jazz Rock Fusion: Style of music that blends jazz with rock and roll.

modal harmony: Chord structure based on one or two chords.

narration: Telling a story.

protest song: Musical composition in which the lyrics object strongly to certain conditions.

quote: In music, when a small fragment of a recognized melody is inserted. This can be in a composition or in an improvisation.

Soul Jazz: Style of music based on a blend of jazz, rhythm and blues, and gospel.

theme song: Music identified with a group of musicians or other entity.

trading fours: Performance technique in which musicians take turns playing four measures. Often the drummer plays on alternating "fours."

United States National Anthem: Official song of the United States of America: "The Star Spangled Banner"
the Herbie Hancock institute of jazz
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