Designed for Learning - LaGuardia Center for Teaching and Learning

"Talking and Testifying, Speaking and Speechifying" -- The Sound of Jazz

Photo from Red Hot Jazz
OVERVIEW: Jazz music emerged from urban African American culture to express the human capacity to do more than merely survive under challenging circumstances. In voices imitating instruments, jazz represents such themes as work life, leisure/entertainment, passion, food, death, and spirituals recorded in African American native voice. It captures the flare of rural and urban storytelling, "loud-talk," "whispery romance," "spare dry poetry," "pool-hall boast" or the "jump-rope rhyme." Jazz melds elements from ragtime, marching band music, European classical music, spirituals, work songs, the blues, and other forms of expression. This activity asks students to examine jazz recordings and related art and literature to better understand African American culture and life in the 1920s.

GOAL: Drawing on web-based audio, text and visual materials to derive an understanding of how jazz reflected and shaped aspects of African American life and culture in the early 20th century.

SKILLS: Listening, reading, writing.

ACTIVITY (55 min. total) Your teacher has assigned you and a partner the task of preparing a multimedia presentation on 1920s jazz and its significance in African-American culture. Use the web sites identified above to gather resources and begin structuring your presentation.

Step 1. Thinking About 1920s Jazz (5 min): With your partner, read and briefly discuss Jazzonia by Langston Hughes. What is Hughes is saying about jazz? What feelings does the poem evoke? What words, images and poetic structures does Hughes use? Given what you know about Hughes, what does the poem suggest about jazz in 1920s African American culture?

Step 2. Listening to 1920s Jazz (20-25 min) Working with your partner, explore the music, images, and commentary available on the Red Hot Jazz site. You may start with the Red Hot Jazz home page or choose one or two of the following recording artists to explore:

o Louis Armstrong (with the Red Hot Onions)
o Red Hot Fives
o Jelly Roll Morton (instrumental only)
o Sidney Bechet (see King Bechet Trio)
o Mamie Smith

What themes and feelings do you hear in the music? What insights can you gather from the music, the images and the text about the nature of 1920s jazz and its place in the African-American community? What resources could you use for a presentation to your classmates?

Step 3. Artistic and Literary Perspectives (10 min): Briefly explore resources from one or more of these sites, which present visual arts and texts from the Harlem Renaissance. What images or ideas could you use?

* "Rhapsodies in Black," exhibition site created by Heywood Gallery & Corcoran Gallery of Art
* "Jazz at Home" by J.A. Rogers in the Survey Graphic site
* Harlem Renaissance Art
* Art and Literature of the Harlem Renaissance
* NYPL Schomburg Center exhibition on Harlem, 1900-1940

Step 4 Brainstorm the Presentation you would produce. (10 minutes): Stop your Research and Analyze what you've found. With your partner, brainstorm the main points of a multimedia presentation to your class on the significance of jazz in urban African American life in the 1920s. Use the questions below to guide your thinking. (Note: unless you're really ambitious, don't try to actually create the presentation-just craft an outline.) Be prepared to share your ideas with your small group.

o What would be the main points of your presentation? What would you focus on?
o Of the resources you explored today, which ones would help you present your ideas clearly and dramatically? Which music? Which images? Which reading? What other kinds of resources might you want to utilize?
o How would you best mix different forms of media to convey your ideas and help your fellow students understand the issues involved?

SMALL GROUP DISCUSSION (40 min): Meet with others who used these resources to share insights, ideas, and reflections on your experience. Start by briefly sharing your ideas for presentations, and then discuss the activity, using the following questions as prompts. Be sure to save time to talk about the pedagogy of this activity and the relationship of pedagogy and technology (prompts C & D) At the end of this time, prepare one member of the group to share some of your thoughts with the larger group.

a) What could students learn from this activity about the Jazz and the Harlem Renaissance? What other kinds of writing or presentation outcomes could this activity support?

b) What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of the activity? Is it a good vehicle for developing student skills in inquiry, the exploration of primary sources, and the construction of historical meaning?

c) How would you describe the pedagogy that informs this activity? What aspects of the activity help to make it effective? What skills and modes of thinking does this activity support? Do the electronic materials being engaged suit the assignment's pedagogy and methodological goals? What can we learn from this activity about the kinds of inquiry assignments that work best when using new media resources?

d) How does the inquiry approach used in this activity compare with inquiry approaches you have used in your classes? What is similar? Different? What are the advantages and disadvantages of inquiry learning, in your experience? Where does it fit in the repertoire of teaching in your field?

Developed by Donna Thompson (ASHP)& Bret Eynon

LaGuardia Community College/CUNY, 31-10 Thomson Ave, Room M414, New York, NY11101