Monday, January 14, 2008

Jazz History Overview

In this class, we will watch the Ken Burns series “Jazz: A History of America’s Music.” There is an opportunity to earn .25 credit in US History, as well as .25 credit in English, depending on what level you choose to participate.

Please refer to this blog for a blurb about each episode as well as the pertinent homework for each episode/class. Vocabulary terms for each episode should be emailed (or handed to me) each Monday morning at or before check-in.

Level 1: no credit
Come to each class, watch the series and participate in class discussions if you choose.

Level 2: .25 US History Credit
Come to each class, watch the series and participate in class discussions. Research vocabulary words before each class and answer several questions about each episode. The final project will be to research a person – a musician, producer, etc. – and create a biography (written, or in another creative form) of your person.

Level 3: .25 US History Credit & .25 English Credit
Come to each class, watch the series and participate in class discussions. Research vocabulary words before each class and answer several questions about each episode. The final project will be to research a person – a musician, producer, etc. – and create a biography (written, or in another creative form) of your person. You will also be required to read The Great Gatsby and answer several essay questions about the book.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Episode/Class 1: Gumbo

"Jazz music objectifies America," the trumpeter Wynton Marsalis says at the beginning of this episode. "It is an art form that can give us a painless way of understanding ourselves." Jazz is born in New Orleans during the 1890's, at the height of the Jim Crow era. It is a creation of the African-American community but incorporates every kind of music heard in the streets of the country's most cosmopolitan city, from Caribbean dances and Italian opera to blues, ragtime, military marches, and the call and response of the Baptist church. Its first great practitioners are the half-mad cornetist Buddy Bolden, who may be the first man ever to play jazz; Jelly Roll Morton, who falsely claimed to have invented it and really is the first to write the music down; and Sidney Bechet, whose fiery clarinet sound mirrors his own explosive personality. Few people beyond its birthplace have a chance to hear jazz until 1917, when a group of white musicians -- the Original Dixieland Jazz band -- make the first recording. It outsells every other record made up to that time, and jazz becomes a national craze.

Terms to research:
Minstrel Show
Congo Square
Jim Crow Laws
Louisiana Creole People

Episode/Class 2: The Gift

Flappers, Prohibition, speakeasies, and the booming stock market -- the uproarious "Jazz Age" -- sets the tone for this episode, and the story of jazz becomes the story of two great cities, Chicago and New York, and of two extraordinary artists whose lives and music span almost three-quarters of a century -- Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. Armstrong, a fatherless waif brought up on the mean streets of New Orleans, develops what he calls his "gift" -- his unparalleled genius as a trumpet player -- and in 1922 makes his way to Chicago, where he gathers around him a whole generation of worshipful musicians, white as well as black. Ellington, brought up in middle-class comfort and refinement in Washington, D.C., by parents who believe him "blessed," moves to Harlem, forms his own band, and begins to play a new kind of an enthralling blues-drenched music for dancing. Meanwhile, the bandleader Paul Whiteman tries to make jazz more like symphonic music -- "to make a lady out of jazz" -- and Fletcher Henderson plays soft, sweet music for white dancers only at the Roseland ballroom. Then, in 1924, Louis Armstrong comes to New York to join the Henderson band and shows the whole world how to swing.

Terms to research:
The Jazz Age
Juke Joint
19th Amendment (US Constitution)

Episode/Class 3: Our Language

As the stock market soars to record heights, jazz is played in dance halls and speakeasies everywhere. The music now places more emphasis on the innovations of supremely gifted individuals; for the first time, improvising soloists and singers take center stage. Bessie Smith helps make an industry out of the blues -- and faces down the Ku Klux Klan. Bix Beiderbecke, a brilliant cornetist from the American heartland, demonstrates that white musicians, too, can make important contributions to jazz -- only to destroy himself with alcohol at the age of 28. Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw -- each the gifted son of Jewish immigrants -- find in jazz a way out of the ghetto. Sidney Bechet takes his music and his combative personality to Europe. Duke Ellington gets the break of a lifetime when his band is hired by the most celebrated of all Harlem nightspots, the gangster-owned, whites-only Cotton Club, and begins to broadcast his distinctive music all across the country. Meanwhile, Louis Armstrong returns to Chicago, and in 1928, with the pianist Earl Hines, records his first great masterpiece, "West End Blues," which establishes jazz as an expressive art comparable to any other, and proves that Armstrong is the music's presiding genius, what the Wright Brothers are to travel and Albert Einstein is to science.

Terms to research:
The Versailles Treaty
League of Nations
Ku Klux Klan
The 18th Amendment
The Cotton Club

Class/Episode 4: The True Welcome

As this episode begins, America finds itself mired in the Great Depression, the worst crisis since the Civil War. With the economy in tatters, jazz is called upon to lift the spirits of a frightened country. In Harlem, as dancers Frankie Manning and Norma Miller recall, people are finding solace in a new dance, the Lindy Hop, and in the big band music played by Chick Webb and Fletcher Henderson. At the same time the pianists Fats Waller and Art Tatum spread their own very different brands of musical joy. Both Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington are prospering in spite of the Depression: Armstrong defies one of America's most-feared gangsters and revolutionizes American singing, just as he has already transformed instrumental playing, while Ellington's sophisticated music and elegant personal style help change the perceptions -- and expectations -- of an entire race. Meanwhile, Benny Goodman forms a big band of his own, broadcasting hot swinging music every Saturday night on the "Let's Dance" radio show. When the show is canceled, Goodman, struggling to hold his band together, embarks on a disastrous cross-country tour in the summer of 1945. But at the Palomar Ballroom in Los langeles young people go wild when Goodman's men begin to play the jazz they love -- and the Swing Era is born.

Terms to research:
Black Tuesday
The Great Depression
John Henry Hammond (born 1910)
Social Justice
Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Episode/Class 5: Swing - Pure Pleasure

In the mid 1930's as the Great Depression stubbornly refuses to lift, jazz comes as close as it has ever come to being America's popular music. It has a new name -- Swing -- and for the first time musicians become matinee idols. Benny Goodman finds himself hailed as the "King of Swing," but he has a host of rivals, among them Tommy Dorsey, Jimmie Lunceford, Glen Miller, and Artie Shaw. Louis Armstrong heads a big band of his own. Duke Ellington continues his own independent course. Billie Holiday emerges from a childhood filled with tragedy to make her first joyous recordings and begin her career as the greatest of all female jazz singers. Benny Goodman demonstrates that in a rigidly segregated country there is still room in jazz for great black and white musicians to play side by side on stage. The episode's finale takes place on May 11, 1937, when 4.000 people gather at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem to witness what is billed as "The Music Battle of the Century," a showdown between Goodman and the indefatigable Chick Webb, a man who hates to lose.

Terms to research:
Harlem Renaissance
The Savoy Ballroom
The Scottsboro Boys
The Volstead Act
Brown vs. The Board of Education
Amos n’ Andy

Episode/Class 6: Swing - The Velocity Of Celebration

in the late 1930's, swing is still a national craze that keeps on growing despite the Depression, although commerce sometimes leads to compromise and the individual expression at the heart of jazz is too often kept under wraps. But in the middle of the country -- in black dance halls, roadhouses and juke joints -- a new kind of music has been incubating. Pulsing, stomping and suffused with the blues, it is played by men and women seasoned in cutting contests that sometimes go on all night. It will fall to Count Basie and Lester Young to bring its healing power to the rest of the country. Meanwhile, Louis Armstrong finds true love. Benny Goodman takes his hot sound to Carnegie Hall and then is forced to rebuild the most popular band in America. And Chick Webb, in a bid to reach a national audience, takes a chance on an "ugly duckling," a teen-aged singer named Ella Fitzgerald -- and before tragedy strikes achieves all that he has hoped for. Billie Holiday finds a musical soulmate, travels with two of the best bands in the country, and then expresses her pain and indignation at racism in America in one anguished song, "Strange Fruit." In 1939, Coleman Hawkins records a familiar tune in a way so daring and so beautiful that it eventually helps lead to a musical revolution in jazz, while Duke Ellington undertakes a triumphal tour of Europe and sees for himself that World War II is only weeks away.

Terms to research:
Dust Bowl
Fair Labor Standards Act
Carnegie Hall
Amelia Earhart
1939 World’s Fair