Changing Culture In The

Classroom Through Jazz

The former curator of American Music, John Edward Hasse (the same man who turned April until Jazz Appreciation Month), argues that jazz ranks among this country’s greatest contributions to world culture: “In my judgement, it’s a fundamental part of who we are as Americans. Young people in Germany are surely educated about Bach and Beethoven, and young people in the United States should surely know about Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington”. However, are young people in the United States learning about Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington?

Secondary music teachers are often expected to focus on Marching Band, concert band, MPA’s, and All State. When is

by Dr. Matt Leder

there time to teach anything else? Some would argue that improvisation should be studied only after a student has a high proficiency on the instrument. Yet, children in New Orleans are improvising well at a very young age. With the limited amount of time in the day, why should educators devote any time or effort to expose youth to this genre of music? What is jazz really saying and is it still of value?

Jazz reminds us that we can work things out together. When you get a group of people together and try to invent something, there is bound to be conflict. There are times where you follow and there are times that you lead. One must never give up and we should remember there is an art to

Jason Marsalis with th

negotiating change with style. One of the most prized possessions of this music is your own unique sound. Through sound, jazz brings you to the core of yourself. This music celebrates creativity, imagination, individuality, and comradery.

Wynton Marsalis once stated, “Jazz is America’s past and its potential, summed up and sanctified and accessible to anybody who learns to listen to, feel, and understand it. The music can connect us to our earlier selves and our better selves-to-come. It can remind us where we fit on the time line of human achievement, an ultimate value of art”. In studying this music, we gain a better understanding of our history. There are also lots of musical benefits for the aspiring musician or listener.

Improvisation is one of the National Standards for Music Education and an important component in jazz, but teachers often balk at the prospect of teaching it. The significance of jazz may or may not sound important at this point, but let’s us look at the advantages of exposing youth to this music in our classroom.

Alabama JEN Unit Faculty Combo with Guest Artists

(from left to right: Abe Becker, Dr. Matt Leder, Dr. Tony McCutchen, Dr. Andy Nevala, Dr. David Phy, Dr. Steve Roberts, Jason Marsalis, Jeffery Miller, and Bria Skonberg)


Active Listening - Aside from the historical significance, recordings can inspire and motivate students to practice and listen. Looking back in our own musical development, did anyone sit down and

February/March 2019

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