5 Ways to Teach Jazz History the Cool Way

flapper As most educators know, it can be tricky to keep material fresh and maintain college students’ attention on any given topic. One of the best ways to add variety to the lecture structure is by incorporating a variety of learning methods and tools into the curriculum.

For Jazz History educators, there is an abundance of great blogs and resources available online that promote interactivity and visual learning. The following is a list of resources that instructors can use to incorporate multimedia into their classrooms build more engaging assignments.

JAZZ by PBS

Instructors and students alike will find this PBS site an excellent interactive resource with which to discover the musical genre and its history. Learning modules such as Jazz in Time and Jazz Exchange allow visitors to explore the musical genre against a backdrop of societal changes and different historical eras, like the Roaring Twenties. A clickable map also highlights key venues and locations significant to the music scene.

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Though the site also offers a plethora of artists’ biographies, discographies and music samples, as well as lesson plans and web links for teachers, the best feature is easily the Jazz Lounge. Here, visitors can experiment and record musical clips with virtual instruments in the Jazz Lab; learn basic music lessons on rhythm, improvisation, and notation in Music 101; and explore seven different jazz styles in Listen In. Overall, this site is a comprehensive, fun approach to jazz history and appreciation.

Jazz and the African American Literary Tradition

Gerald Early’s essay, “Jazz and the African American Literary Tradition,” explores the emergence of the Jazz Age and its profound impact on the African American community. In addition to a general overview on the logistical and cultural context of how the jazz movement spread in the United States, Early traces how jazz factored into the African American struggle for equality by examining such movements as the New Negro Renaissance and the Black Arts Movement. The essay also delves into how the jazz movement transformed African American literature.

On the page, educators can find also resources for further learning, as well as an exhaustive guide on how to shape their lectures and discussions about the article. Ultimately, the site provides students with a unique perspective of jazz history, and allows for better understanding of the Jazz movement’s cultural implications.

Carrol Dickerson Jazz Chicago 1924
Herman Leonard

Herman Leonard’s site engages visual learners through the vibrant, intimate snapshots of jazz luminaries and performances. Declared the “The greatest jazz photographer in the history of the genre” by former President Bill Clinton, Leonard first began his career in jazz photography in New York in the 1950s. In this time, Leonard became friends with and photographed Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, and Billie Holiday, before traveling around the world to document the international jazz scene. With a large gallery of portraits and candid shots, Leonard’s sleek site is a terrific visual representation of the Jazz Era, and will transport viewers to the genre’s golden age.

The Jazz at Lincoln Center Video Library

The videos on this site are a terrific way to reinforce learning and incorporate multimedia into lectures. In addition to the staggering video library, users also have the helpful option of selecting curated lists of videos. Two of particular interest include Experience Jazz History and Learn from the JLCO. The first features jazz scholars and musicians discussing the history of the genre, while Learn from the JLCO includes videos with tips from performers at the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.

Spotify Playlists

Spotify is a wildly popular music streaming service, and most students probably already have a subscription. Spotify lets users easily create playlists and share music, and even connect with social media to show their friends what they’ve been listening to. Playlists are another way to encourage students to become involved with the artists and musicians they are studying. Instructors can even create collaborative playlists and encourage students to add their own picks. Below is just a sampling of many Jazz playlists available on Spotify:

  • Classic Jazz Singers: This playlist is a great introductory lesson in Jazz music, and includes all of the most important names in Jazz, including Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, and Billie Holiday.

  • OnMusic Jazz 2nd Edition: Curated by Penn State’s Dr. Stephen Hopkins, the author of C4E’s OnMusic Jazz History webtext, this comprehensive playlist is another sampling from some of jazz’s greatest artists.

  • Jazz Driven Hip-Hop: Featuring works from such hip hop artists as Jay-Z and Kanye West, this playlist is an excellent way to help students bridge contemporary hip hop with its jazz influences.


Ultimately, teachers can combine any of the above resources into their Jazz history curriculums for a well-rounded experience that will make learning approachable for all students.

Do you know of any other jazz history sites that teachers might find useful? Let us know in the comments below!
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Narwan Aimen
Narwan Aimen works for Connect for Education as a Technical Support Specialist and is a guest contributor to our blog. She recently graduated George Mason University with a B.A. in English. She is also a freelance writer, specializing in the arts. Other blog posts by her can be found here.

2 Comments

  1. Judy Meredith September 22, 2015 Reply

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