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6-12 > U.S. History

Jazz Talk
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Grade Level  6-8, 9-12
Subject Area  the arts
Curriculum Focus  history, music, creative writing, historiography
Duration  1 week

  Students will analyze work songs, spirituals, blues, and gospel songs in order to develop an appreciation for the origins of jazz music. They will also examine works of poetry from African American artists and create their own poems. After completing this activity, students should be able to describe the impact of African American songs and writings on American culture.

  research tools such as reference books and the Internet, a sheet of poster board, markers, pens, pencils, a straight-edge

  Jazz is deeply rooted in American social history. Created and developed primarily by African Americans, jazz is the derivative of various kinds of musical forms and cultural experiences, which originated in the early 1600s.

Dan Morgenstern, a noted jazz historian, provides an example of the interplay between culture and music in his account of
The History of Jazz:

“By 1917, many key Jazz players, white and black, had left New Orleans and other southern cities to come north. The reason was not the notorious 1917 closing of the New Orleans red light district, but simple economics. The great war in Europe had created an industrial boom, and the musicians merely followed in the wake of millions of workers moving north to the promise of better jobs.”

  1.  Listen carefully to themusicand the people who made it. Examine the words and listen to the way these songs were sung. What are your impressions of the moods and images represented in the music?
  2.  Select and read thepoetryof African American writers. Read the poems aloud and listen for the rhythm and tone. Is it possible to put these words to song? What is the attitude of the poet? What emotions do you hear and feel as you hear the poem?
  3.  Create your own work of poetry. Choose from one of the following styles:

•  Narrative – the speaker is the poet
•  Dramatic – the speaker is clearly someone other than the poet
•  Lyric – writers express their thoughts and feelings about a subject in a brief but musical way

You may choose to write a poem from the standpoint of a sharecropper in the south or a youth on his/her way to Chicago. Another possibility is the use of personification (e.g., write a poem about what it’s like to be a jazz instrument). Your poetic style might be to write about a landscape or city. Yet another choice might be to write a credo as a poem.

  Extension 1:ExploreJazz Internet Resourcesto see and hear famous jazz musicians, and to investigate what it means to be a jazz artist today. Locate examples of the origins of jazz in modern music. Select a musician to research and find out which styles and musicians influenced him/her.

Extension 2:To illustrate the relationship between jazz music and society, research the development of jazz over time and prepare a Pictorial Timeline tracing the evolution of jazz from its earliest beginnings in America through to its modern forms and styles. Your illustrations should depict historical periods, the musical genres involved, notable musicians, cultural influences and any significant social history. You may even wish to use corresponding artistic styles for your illustrations (e.g., Art Deco for 1920s-30s).

Teacher Tips:Have students analyze the poems to identify each of the elements below:

  • Subject – what the poem is about
  • Theme – what the poem accomplishes, what it seems to be saying
  • Structure – look for ways that form helps to achieve the effect, progression of stanzas, construction of the case, rhyme scheme, meter, use of traditional form
  • Voice or Tone – qualities of the speaker, the speaker’s attitude
  • Syntax – word order
  • Diction – important images, important metaphors, similes, personifications, important connotations/denotations
  • Literary aspects – tone, irony, structure, diction, mood, style, atmosphere, metaphor, paradox, symbolism, symbolic punctuation
  • Literary critical perspectives – analysis, interpretation, generic criticism, evaluation of style, evaluation of impact, evocation, analogical reasoning

  Our thanks to Winona Morrissette-Johnson, a social studies teacher at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia, and Liselle Drake, a Resource Librarian for ERIC.