National Jazz Curriculum
Jazz is recognized around the world for its rich cultural heritage that is rooted in the African-American experience. It is widely considered to be the only truly American musical art form. Yet most Americans graduate from high school without any knowledge of the history or importance of jazz. In order to provide an ongoing education about jazz for our nation’s students, the Institute has developed Jazz in America: The National Jazz Curriculum.
Located at jazzinamerica.org, this internet-based jazz curriculum is available to every 5th, 8th, and 11th grade public school social studies and American history classroom in the United States. Jazz in America is the first jazz curriculum to use current internet technology and be offered free of charge on a national basis. It also represents the most significant and potentially wide-reaching jazz/social studies education program ever undertaken by an arts organization, reaching millions of students around the world over the past two decades. In addition, the program’s public school touring component has directly reached more than 500,000 students and teachers through assembly programs and master classes led by renowned jazz artists including Antonio Hart, Lisa Henry, T.S. Monk, Vanessa Rubin, and Bobby Watson.
In summer 2020, the Institute responded to the challenges of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic by offering a series of free two- to three-week webinars teaching the Jazz in America curriculum. Designed to keep students in elementary, middle and high school engaged while self-isolating over the summer months, the free webinars took participants through the basic elements and history of jazz, and profiled some of the greatest jazz artists and recordings of all time. This unique program impacted hundreds of students, parents and teachers from across the United States and over 40 countries. The 2020 virtual presentation of Jazz in America was made possible through the generous support of AT&T.
The 5th, 8th, and 11th grade curricula feature eight 50-minute lesson plans to be taught as an integral part of each school’s social studies or American history courses. The lesson plans present a historical overview, examine characteristics of various jazz styles, highlight contributions of important performers and composers, and, most importantly, explore the social, economic, and political contexts within which jazz evolved. The study of jazz also helps students develop a better understanding of and respect for this country’s diverse cultural heritage. And, perhaps, there is no better example of democracy than a jazz ensemble – individual freedom but with responsibility to the group.
The Institute piloted the 11th grade curriculum in Cleveland, Hartford, Los Angeles, Miami, and Washington, DC, and subsequently made the program available on a national basis. The 8th grade curriculum was first introduced throughout the state of Alaska. With the 5th grade curriculum completed in 2005, the program is now fully established. Students are able to receive instruction in jazz history three different times before graduating from high school. The curriculum has the potential to reach as many as 12 million students annually.
Jazz in America on Tour
To promote Jazz in America, the Institute presents jazz education tours at public schools in selected cities. Each tour features a major jazz artist and educator accompanied by a four- or five-piece jazz combo. These musicians serve as artists-in-residence in each city, performing and conducting master classes and assembly programs. The Institute has also presented a series of professional development workshops in selected cities to familiarize teachers and administrators with jazzinamerica.org and demonstrate effective ways of teaching the material.
Curriculum tours have been presented for tens of thousands of students in:
- Boise, Idaho
- Chicago, Illinois
- Cleveland, Ohio
- Hartford, Connecticut
- Kansas City, Missouri
- Los Angeles, California
- Memphis, Tennessee
- Miami, Florida
- New Orleans, Louisiana
- Portland, Oregon
- Salt Lake City, Utah
- Seattle, Washington
- Washington, D.C.
Multi-city tours have included visits to public schools in:
- Anchorage, Barrow, Fairbanks, and Juneau, Alaska
- Frankfort, Lexington, and Louisville, Kentucky
- Cleveland, Gulfport, Hattiesburg, Indianola, Jackson, Natchez, Oxford, Pascagoula, Rosedale, and Ruleville, Mississippi
- Billings, Butte, Helena, and Missoula, Montana
- Charlotte, Durham, Raleigh, and Rocky Mount, North Carolina
- Austin, Houston, and San Antonio, Texas
The Jazz in America writing team included some of the most respected jazz and social studies pedagogues/authors in the country. Led by Dr. JB Dyas, the Institute’s Vice President for Education and Curriculum Development, the committee included Dr. David Baker, Distinguished Professor of Music at Indiana University, Conductor of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, and Past President of the International Association for Jazz Education; Dr. Willie Hill, Director of the Fine Arts Center at the University of Massachusetts and Past President of the National Association for Music Education (MENC); Dr. Gary Nash, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of California Los Angeles, Director of the National Center for History in the Schools, and co-chair of the National History Standards Project; David Vigilante, Associate Director of the National Center for History in the Schools and former Coordinator of History-Social Studies for San Diego County; Howard Mandel, jazz journalist, author, and President of the Jazz Journalists Association; Marcia Foster Dunscomb, author and specialist in the field of early childhood jazz education; Bob Blumenthal, freelance jazz journalist and Creative Consultant for Marsalis Music; Willard Jenkins, jazz producer, author and oral historian; Dr. J. Richard Olivas, Professor of History at West Los Angeles College; and Phil Coady, President of Microgroove, the premier music education software and web developer.
Additional consultants included Tom Gibbons, Consultant for History/Social Science with the Los Angeles County Office of Education; Jackie Purdy, Member of the Board of Directors of the California Council for the Social Studies and the Southern California Social Science Association; as well as Herbie Hancock, the Institute’s Chairman, and Daniel Seeff, the Institute’s West Coast Director. Tom Carter, President of the Institute, oversees the project.