I love all the ages I teach and all the styles of music I teach, but we all have our favorite children in the family and teaching jazz to 8th graders is mine. Besides the fantastic music and the delicious blend of freedom and structure, jazz is intimately connected with our national identity, our history, our future. As Gershwin so succinctly put it: “Jazz is the result of the energy stored up in America.”
Much of what I aspire to in teaching the jazz class is the same as in all my classes, but with that extra twist of history and culture and sense of belonging to a vibrant community just outside the school gates and down the road of our history. Amongst my hopes:
• To reveal this great art form through giving children first-hand experiences in playing.
• To play to each child’s strengths while also inviting them to try out new things.
• To move them beyond the known horizon through improvisation.
• To stand them on the shoulders of those who came before, as in teaching part of a Wynton Kelly solo from which they continue on their own.
• To choose great tunes, things like Miles’ Freddie Freeloader and Count Basie’s Shiny Stockings.
• To connect the music with its history, culture and great artists.
• To widen understanding of how jazz developed and its basic theory.
• To bring the group together through collective music-making— music as a means to create community.
• To give memorable classes that will be missed.
Yesterday, I cleaned out a desk drawer and came upon a card from an 8th grader student from the class of 2007. It was an end-of-the-year note of appreciation. I love that it's handwritten, I love the colorful drawings and artistic composition and I love that the student noticed and valued just about everything from that list above. It’s one of the best report cards I’ve ever gotten and I keep it to cheer me up on a rainy day when all the doubts about what we’re doing and why and whether we’ve done anything worthwhile creep in.