“Jazz music is America’s past and its potential, summed up and sanctified and accessible to anybody who learns to listen to, feel, and understand it. The music can connect us to our earlier selves and to our better selves-to-come. It can remind us of where we fit on the time line of human achievement, an ultimate value of art.” ~ Wynton Marsalis
Earlier this summer, I went to an amazing street sale, and came across some jazz CDs associated with the name Ken Burns. By doing a Google search, I learned that he had produced a documentary about jazz. For the last several weeks I have been riveted by this program – the photos, the film footage, the history, the interviews, and the music… all of it. More can be learned about it at http://www.pbs.org/jazz/ . I love to learn new information and chase it in different directions, and I was absolutely fascinated to discover so much about each artist, to be awakened to the context in which they lived and created and performed. As I have gotten older, I have had a greater desire to appreciate and understand music in this way – not just as a recording that I enjoy, but as being the expression of someone’s unique and extraordinary life, and as a part of history.
For young children, history is an abstraction. Children live so fully in the moment and learn best through concrete and tangible experiences that can be absorbed through their senses and actions. Their emotions can be engaged through the expressive qualities of music, which tell them to relax and listen, or to move and dance. I have selected some picture books about jazz that – in addition to being fun to read – will introduce children to some of the names of great jazz artists, to the historical context of jazz, to the instruments that were played and to the sound and rhythm of the music. These are books that will allow children to take in information through images, sounds and movement and to imagine the time and places in which jazz emerged and evolved. I hope these are books that educators will enjoy using as part of their music curriculum for the very young.
Ehrhardt, Karen. This Jazz Man. Orlando: Harcourt, 2006
Though I reviewed this one in an earlier blog post (http://earlychildhoodartsconnection.ca/?p=449) I feel it must be included in this grouping of books. So, here it is, again! “Sung to the tune of ‘This Old Man’ Ehrhardt’s be-bopping book invites readers to learn about numbers, instruments, rhythm patterns and jazz greats like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. R.G. Roth’s gorgeous mixed media collages and prints bring motion and joy to the text, and include musical phrases such as “hop-step-sliiiide!” and “doodly-doodly-doot-doot!” and “thimp dumple thump-thump!” – a playful opportunity to imitate snapping fingers, tapping feet, congas, trumpets, pianos and more. The conclusion of the book includes some biographical information about well-known artists and their contribution to the music world. What a wonderful introduction to jazz!”
Wheeler, Lisa. Jazz Baby. Orlando: Harcourt, 2007
Using a variety of sounds, movements and familiar musical terms, the rhyming text in Jazz Baby invites readers to dance and sing along with a family, to the joyful jazz that starts the baby’s day and tucks him in at night. The moment dad puts a record on the turntable, both family and friends join in snapping, tapping, clapping, scatting, swinging and more! Gregory Christie’s illustrations in gouache capture the movement of this book and the happiness that happens when music brings people together. Children will enjoy the rhythm, rhyme and repetition of this book, and could be encouraged to explore their own dance moves to their favourite jazz recordings. (As a starting place, try listening to Jazz for Kids: Sing Clap Wiggle and Shake – see image above).
Raschka, Christopher. Charlie Parker played be bop. New York: Orchard Books, 1992
This playful book allows children to explore the rhythms, syncopations and sounds of jazz (be bop), but particularly if the text is read with special attention to the musical details expressed in the words. The lively poem, packed with sound effects, repeated words and devices like alliteration has a motion to it that will allow readers to physically feel the pulse of the music and to join in the reading. Raschka’s humorous water colour and charcoal pencil illustrations capture Charlie Parker playing his alto saxophone, as well as showing alphabet letters, birds and shoes moving to his distinctive music. This book could allow children to find out more about who Charlie Parker was, how his style of playing influenced other musicians and showed new possibilities for making music.
Dillon, Leo and Diane. Jazz on a Saturday Night. New York: Blue Sky Press, 2007
This extraordinary book ushers readers into a concert venue where they have front row seats to see jazz greats like Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Max Roach and others set up and perform for an audience eager to enjoy the sounds of trumpet, drums, saxophone, piano, guitar, bass and voice. The dark colours in the paintings capture the dreamy mood of a story that brings together musicians who never actually performed in this configuration. Perhaps this is why the musicians are often depicted with their eyes closed – not simply because they are deep in concentration, or because they are feeling transported by the music, but because they also share in the authors’ dream about a magical night that never happened. In addition to information about the jazz artists represented, this gorgeous book includes a CD narrated by the authors. Different instruments, including the human voice, are described and listeners are introduced to their distinctive sounds. There is a track which sets the text to music, guiding us through each instrument in the story and adding to the special sense of attending a concert.
Isadora, Rachel. Bring on That Beat. New York: Putnam, 2002
Rachel Isadora’s simple rhyming couplets capture the rich details of her black and white oil paintings (accented with splashes of computer generated colour). The book allows readers to spend the night dancing with children and jazz musicians in a Harlem neighbourhood in the 1930’s. Children dance in doorways, on front steps, under streetlamps, on fire escapes and on rooftops, where what might be the music of Duke Ellington rises up from the streets and high above the tops of high rises. Isadora’s book allows modern readers to have a glimpse into the past and imagine what life and music in another time might have been like. The book concludes with a reminder that music transcends the particular time and place in which it first was created and enjoyed, and influences what we create and listen to today.
Weiss, George David and Bob Thiele. What a Wonderful World. New York, NY: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 1995
Ashley Bryan’s tempera and gouache paintings provide bright and cheerful illustrations for a lovely composition recorded by jazz great, Louis Armstrong (August 4, 1901 – July 6, 1971). It is a positive song, that was written in the face of challenging times in the history of the United States during the 1960’s. The lyrics are sweet and simple, and the text could easily be sung to young readers. This would be a way to introduce children to a beloved artist and individual whose enormous talent and contribution to music has indeed made this a wonderful world.