Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Jazz and Justice: Part I

Yesterday I began my new online class, Jazz and Social Justice. Six 90-minute sessions each Monday night. Thrilled to have sufficient interest (35 people!) and the opportunity to exercise these ideas and share this information with a group. The course is based on the new book I wrote telling stories from some 20 plus jazz musicians about the systemic racism they encountered and how they dealt with it. I began with an overview that went something like this: 


The Status of Jazz in the U.S.

• In some ways, jazz has become a mainstream part of American culture. Just about every middle school/ high school/ college in the country has a jazz band/ jazz department. 


• Yet according to a 2013 poll, jazz is the least popular music genre in the U.S., with an astoundingly low 2.3 % listening to it— last on the list! 


• Jazz band in schools is accessible to those interested in playing certain instruments. 


• Exposure to jazz for all students of all ages through listening/ playing/ learning history is not a curriculum mandate. 


• In the Orff world, despite my 30 years of effort to show people how to integrate Jazz and Orff and make it playable and understandable for every child, jazz is not included in the Level trainings or expected in the Saturday workshops and only given peripheral attention (if any) in the National Conferences. 


• Most kids in school jazz bands (all levels) know little about jazz history and teachers more concerned with getting kids to read charts with good tone and rhythm are not expected to include this.


• If kids (or adults) do know something about jazz history and the key musicians, the emphasis is more on biographical details about who played with who and when and what they recorded. Little (if any) attention is paid to what they endured as black  Americans in a racist society and how they dealt with it.


The Status of Social Justice Education

• Schools have a long history of perpetuating the narrative of White Supremacy through ignoring diverse histories, leaving out needed stories, failing to challenge the assumptions driving Columbus, genocide and slavery. Now this is becoming yet more extreme as conservative states are actively banning the teaching of Critical Race Theory and other attempts to tell the whole story.


• “My ignorance is as good as your education” is death to any possibility of healing. 


• Ignorance can come from the privilege of apathy, people who don’t care to examine their inherited narratives because it makes them uncomfortable and gets in the way of them “having a nice day.”


• Ignorance can be purposeful perpetuated by those in power to preserve their unearned privilege.

• The mixture of those in power who have voice (Fox News, for example) and those who listen complacently or enthusiastically cheer them on is why the Civil War continues. Those who spew hate from platforms at rallies need the crowd that applauds them and the crowd needs their demagogues to bless their decision to refuse independent thought.


• “We are in a race between education and catastrophe” (H.G. Wells). School as business-as-usual is a bad survival strategy. Time to speak up beyond the norm, not with preaching and shouting and party lines (from either end of the political spectrum), but with sharing the stories that give a fuller picture, challenge unthinking and hurtful assumptions, leaving room for lively and respectful discussion and reflection, cultivating the capacity to think critically and imagine new possibilities. 


So how to artfully combine teaching kids about jazz and teaching kids about social justice? Stay tuned for more.

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