Oh yeah! Exploring Black History through Jazz

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The beautiful book Jazz Baby, by Lisa Wheeler and R. Gregory Christie, and some fabulous tunes from Louis Armstrong, Ella FitzGerald, Dizzie Gillespie, Duke Ellington, and John Coltraine were the perfect way to bring some swing into our storytime. We got our bodies moving, said a thank you to some important Black History Month musical heroes, and then wondered… how does jazz music make us feel? Soaring trumpets and silly scat lyrics made students feel comfortable asking questions and digging deeper.

Kindergarten, first, and second graders each had different questions about jazz, its origins, and its connection to Black History Month. I have a degree in music education and studied jazz in my music history classes, so these conversations weren’t new to me. If you’d like to learn more about jazz history, there are lots of great resources online: this Screen Shot 2019-02-09 at 7.31.35 PMHistory of Jazz Black History Month resource is a great place to start. Some questions were easy to answer – Do people still make jazz music now? Did she forget the words, and that’s why she’s making those sounds? What is it called when the singer sings words that don’t mean anything, but make a rhythm? – while others sparked more complicated discussions – Can only Black people play jazz music? Why does this song sound so sad? Together as a class, we answered whatever questions we could, researched questions with easy, factual answers, and spoke honestly about not knowing the answers to others. I find that students respond well to honest responses like, I wish I had an answer to give to you, but I’m not sure about that. What do you think? Does anyone else think something different?

First, we read the story, keeping the beat in our hands and repeating favorite pages. While we read, we talked about the rhythms, patterns, and vocal jazz scat that we saw in the text. After finishing, we sat, closed our eyes, and listened to some jazz ourselves, taking some time to discuss how it made us feel (students practice mindfulness in their classrooms, so they were familiar with listening to their bodies and minds and sharing their sensations). Finally, we let our bodies take control and move to the music! Seeing students’ joy and excitement was so much fun – the room was full of giggles, snapping, clapping, and shouting. If you ever need a little extra sunshine in your day, play a Louis Armstrong song for first graders and watch them react to his iconic voice! One shouted, “It sounds like Sesame Street!” Another collapsed into giggles and said, “He sounds just like my grandpa!” Taking the time to listen and explore lead to amazing conversations (and, of course, those dance moves!). After our storytime ended, students begged for more jazz, so we’ll continue with a fun jazzy playlist during our reading time.

If you’re interested in bringing some jazz into your storytime, here are three jazz songs that we used and loved:



Black History Month is important, and I’m working on creating a more meaningful and engaging experience for my students this year. Learn more, and follow along, here

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