National Jazz Curriculum

In 2000, the Institute launched this innovative Internet-based jazz curriculum (www.jazzinamerica.org) designed to be taught in every 5th, 8th, and 11th grade public school American history and social studies classroom in the United States. The curriculum examines the evolution of jazz styles, contributions of important performers, and musical techniques involved in the creation and performance of jazz. The program’s public school touring component has directly reached more than 200,000 students and teachers through assembly programs and master classes led by renowned jazz artists including Antonio Hart, Lisa Henry, T.S. Monk, Vanessa Rubin, and Bobby Watson. The curriculum already has reached millions of students around the world over the past decade.

Jazz is recognized around the world for its rich cultural heritage that is rooted in the African-American experience. It is widely considered to be the only truly American musical art form. Yet, most Americans graduate from high school without any knowledge of the history or importance of jazz. In order to provide an ongoing education about jazz for our nation’s students, the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz has developed Jazz in America: The National Jazz Curriculum. Located on the Web at www.jazzinamerica.org, this Internet-based jazz curriculum is available to every 5th, 8th, and 11th grade public school social studies and American history classroom in the United States. This is the first jazz curriculum to use current Internet technology and be offered free of charge on a national basis. It also represents the most significant and potentially wide-reaching jazz/social studies education program ever undertaken by an arts organization.

The 5th, 8th, and 11th grade curricula feature eight 50-minute lesson plans to be taught as an integral part of each school’s social studies or American history courses. The lesson plans present a historical overview, examine characteristics of various jazz styles, highlight contributions of important performers and composers, and, most importantly, explore the social, economic, and political contexts within which jazz evolved. The study of jazz also helps students develop a better understanding of and respect for this country’s diverse cultural heritage. And, perhaps, there is no better example of democracy than a jazz ensemble – individual freedom but with responsibility to the group.

The Institute piloted the 11th grade curriculum in Cleveland, Hartford, Los Angeles, Miami, and Washington, DC, and subsequently made the program available on a national basis. The 8th grade curriculum was first introduced throughout the state of Alaska. With the 5th grade curriculum completed in 2005, the program is now fully established. Students are able to receive instruction in jazz history three different times before graduating from high school. The curriculum has the potential to reach as many as 12 million students annually.

The Jazz in America writing team included some of the most respected jazz and social studies pedagogues/authors in the country. Led by Dr. JB Dyas, the Institute’s Vice President for Education and Curriculum Development, the committee included Dr. David Baker, Distinguished Professor of Music at Indiana University, Conductor of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, and Past President of the International Association for Jazz Education; Dr. Willie Hill, Director of the Fine Arts Center at the University of Massachusetts and Past President of the National Association for Music Education (MENC); Dr. Gary Nash, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of California Los Angeles, Director of the National Center for History in the Schools, and co-chair of the National History Standards Project; David Vigilante, Associate Director of the National Center for History in the Schools and former Coordinator of History-Social Studies for San Diego County; Howard Mandel, jazz journalist, author, and President of the Jazz Journalists Association; Marcia Foster Dunscomb, author and specialist in the field of early childhood jazz education; Bob Blumenthal, freelance jazz journalist and Creative Consultant for Marsalis Music; Willard Jenkins, jazz producer, author and oral historian; Dr. J. Richard Olivas, Professor of History at West Los Angeles College; and Phil Coady, President of Microgroove, the premier software and Web site company specializing in music education technology.

Additional consultants included Tom Gibbons, Consultant for History/Social Science with the Los Angeles County Office of Education; Jackie Purdy, Member of the Board of Directors of the California Council for the Social Studies and the Southern California Social Science Association; as well as Herbie Hancock, Daniel Seeff, and Thelonious Monk, Jr., the Institute’s Chairman, West Coast Director, and Board of Trustees Chair, respectively. Tom Carter, President of the Institute, oversees the project.

To promote the Jazz in America curriculum, the Institute presents jazz education tours at public schools in selected cities. Each tour features a major jazz artist and educator accompanied by a four- to five-piece jazz combo. These musicians serve as artists-in-residence in each city, performing and conducting master classes and assembly programs. The Institute has also presented a series of professional development workshops in selected cities to familiarize teachers and administrators with the curriculum Web site and demonstrate effective ways of teaching the material.

Curriculum tours have been presented for tens of thousands of students in:

  • Boise, Idaho
  • Chicago, Illinois
  • Cleveland, Ohio
  • Hartford, Connecticut
  • Kansas City, Missouri
  • Los Angeles, California
  • Memphis, Tennessee
  • Miami, Florida
  • New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Portland, Oregon
  • Salt Lake City, Utah
  • Seattle, Washington
  • Washington, D.C.

Multi city tours have included visits to public schools in:

  • Anchorage, Barrow, Fairbanks, and Juneau, Alaska
  • Frankfort, Lexington, and Louisville, Kentucky
  • Cleveland, Gulfport, Hattiesburg, Indianola, Jackson, Natchez, Oxford, Pascagoula, Rosedale, and Ruleville, Mississippi
  • Billings, Butte, Helena, and Missoula, Montana
  • Charlotte, Durham, Raleigh, and Rocky Mount, North Carolina
  • Austin, Houston, and San Antonio, Texas