Cross-Curricular Lessons and Activities for Jazz Appreciation Month

April is Jazz Appreciation Month, the coolest month or maybe the hottest depending on your Jazz preference. Here are some cross-curricular lessons and activities resources to help students explore our national art form.

General Resources.

A good place to start is the Smithsonian’s Jazz Appreciation website, JAM. Teachers and students can visit the section “112 Ways to Celebrate Jazz” to find connections of other arts and disciplines as well as links to other sites.

What Is Jazz? was a four part series of lectures given by jazz pianist and educator Billy Taylor. You can listen to the entire series or just the audio clips you need.

Smithsonian Jazz and the companion website for Jazz: A Film by Ken Burns are also good resources.  And don’t overlook the 10 part series.

Jazz has its own vocabulary. The website, A Passion for Jazz, offers a useful Glossary.

Jazz and Math.

PBS has a number of lessons exploring the relationship of math and jazz: Tap Your Feet (K-5), Improvisation Permutations (6-12), Rhythmic Innovations (6-12), The Beat Goes On (6-12), and The Fibonacci Keyboard (6-12). has a number of demonstrations and online activities for math and music. The Wolfram sites require software downloads, but these are free for educators. Jazz Voicings and Generate a Composition are two, but The Wolfram Demonstrations Project has many more related to sound and music.

Jazz and History

In addition to Ken Burns film the Library of Congress provides Ragtime, A Guide to Harlem Renaissance Materials, and The Gerry Mulligan Collection. The Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz’s Jazz in America houses a number of lesson plans for K-12 students and a resources section with images, glossary, style sheets, sound clips, and more.

Jazz and Language Arts

PBSkids makes the connection between jazz and language arts with a collection of lessons: Learning through the Duke (2-4), Chops and Axes — A Jazz Talk Show (4-8), Visualizing Jazz Scenes of the Harlem Renaissance (8-12), Black and Blue: Jazz in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (11-12), and Transcending Poetry, Jazz, Rap & Hip Hop (11-12).

Jazz and Music

NEA: Jazz in the Schools is a National Endowment for the Arts created web-based curriculum that explores jazz as an indigenous America art form and as a way to understand American history. It has an interactive timeline, videos, lessons illustrated with sound clips, separate listening room, and more. Teachers have their own edition. The NEA offers a multimedia toolkit that provides a modified version of the curriculum for schools that do not have adequate internet access. The toolkit is free for high school music, social studies and history teachers and high school librarians.

Jazz and Graphic Art & Photography

Jazz and graphic art were evident on album cover art and posters and on a smaller scale today with CDs. Art teachers can find good examples on The Art of Jazz, The Art of Jazz – David Stone Martin Record Cover Art, Tamara Harutyunyan Jazz Graphics, The Jazz Graphics, and 1000 Music Graphics.

For photo teachers and students, The Library of Congress’s Photographs from the Golden Age of Jazz provides access to digital images of sixteen hundred negatives and transparencies, approximately one hundred annotated contact prints, and over two hundred selected photographic prints that show photographer William P. Gottlieb’s cropping, burning, and dodging preferences. Many images are large, making them especially useful for study.

And don’t forget to listen to jazz. Pandora is a good spot to tailor your listening to style, artist, or instrument. And don’t miss JazzRadio and many other web-based jazz venues.

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