NEA Arts Magazine

Jazz as History

NEA Jazz in the Schools

The NEA established the NEA Jazz Masters Fellowships in 1982 to honor those musicians who, throughout their lifetimes, have made a significant and lasting impact on the field of jazz. The NEA Jazz Masters initiative also has a substantial educational component: NEA Jazz in the Schools. Produced in partnership with Jazz at Lincoln Center and supported by a grant from the Verizon Foundation, NEA Jazz in the Schools is a five-unit, Web-based curriculum and toolkit for use by high school teachers to explore American history through jazz. Launched in 2006 as an online resource, the NEA Jazz in the Schools toolkits have since benefited 4.6 million students, with millions more benefiting from the program's online version.

Structured to meet national curriculum standards in a range of subjects, units range from an introductory lesson on the birth of jazz -- The Advent of Jazz and The Dawn of the 20th Century -- to the closing unit, which explores what makes jazz an uniquely American musical form. The curriculum exposes students to a comprehensive range of jazz styles and musicians, from early bandleader Louis Armstrong to bebop giant Charlie Parker to contemporary vocalist Cassandra Wilson. The curriculum also features a timeline of notable events in jazz history, which can be viewed comprehensively or Sltered in terms of culture, technology, music, history, and geography.

In fall 2006 Kimberley Santino, a teacher at Ward Melville High School in Long Island, New York, piloted the NEA Jazz in the Schools curriculum with her Regents level history class. "I tried to organize a field trip for my kids to Jazz at Lincoln Center, which is how I hooked up with the education department. the NEA was then given my name and information and I became a teacher to pilot the program, which was great!"

Santino reported two significant aspects of the NEA Jazz in the Schools curriculum: it easily fit into her existing history and government curriculum and it appealed to students with a range of learning styles and interests. "I used the lessons on the history of jazz -- how [jazz] is important to American culture, how it laid the groundwork for rock and roll and hip hop. My students love doing research, listening to music, and being on the computer. NEA Jazz in the Schools has those attributes and much more." She looks forward to using additional NEA Jazz in the Schools lesson plans with her classes this fall. "I knew my students would enjoy it, I just did not know how much. I was very pleased with the outcomes and excellent results from the student's research. I absolutely will use the curriculum in the future -- it is a fantastic way to get all students involved and it offers something for all of the many interests my students have."