Education - Blues and Jazz

With generous support from Bill and Carolyn Powers, the Institute has launched a free online curriculum for 5th, 8th, and 11th grade public school students in the United States that traces the history and development of the blues and jazz in America.

Dockery Farms, located in the heart of the Mississippi Delta between Cleveland and Ruleville, is considered by many, including blues legend B.B. King, to be the birthplace of the blues. Guitarist Charley Patton’s father was employed at Dockery Farms, and it was here that the younger Patton began creating the innovative sound that would influence many other musicians and later be referred to as the blues. Other unforgettable bluesmen who worked at or visited Dockery Farms to play the blues included Robert Johnson, Son House, and Howlin’ Wolf. At this same time about 300 miles away in New Orleans, a different music – jazz – was being played.

The curriculum shows how the blues, perhaps more than any other music, is jazz’s greatest influence. From the creation of jazz a century ago to the modern jazz of today, the blues has been a benchmark for jazz musicians.

The Blues and Jazz curriculum debuted in 2007 when the Institute presented a two-week Blues and Jazz educational tour for more than 5,000 Mississippi public school students. The tour was headlined by internationally renowned saxophonists Bobby Watson and Antonio Hart and featured blues guitarist Alvin “Youngblood” Hart and jazz vocalist Lisa Henry. Through visits to public schools in Cleveland, Jackson, Natchez, Oxford, Rosedale, and Ruleville, the musicians presented schoolwide assembly programs plus jazz band and vocal jazz clinics for advanced high school student musicians.

In the 2007-2008 school year, the Institute began offering free daily in-school and after-school instrument training sessions for students at Ruleville High School in partnership with Delta State University. The program is helping to cultivate the next generation of musicians and perpetuate the Mississippi Delta’s blues legacy.

In addition to the ongoing school programs, the Institute also visits public schools in the Mississippi Delta region, New Orleans, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC, presenting follow-up education tours that serve thousands of students. Tours include a series of engaging assembly programs, jazz band clinics, and vocal master classes that focus on the musical and historical effects of blues and jazz on one another. Each week-long tour has featured internationally acclaimed musicians, including GRAMMY Award-winning blues artist Chris Thomas King, W.C. Handy Award-winning blues guitarist Joe Louis Walker, and renowned blues guitarist Guitar Slim, Jr. During recent tours, the musicians also presented free public concerts at Delta State University and participated in the unveiling and dedication of a Blues Heritage Trail sign at Dockery Farms, recognizing this historic plantation’s role in the creation and development of the blues.

The Blues and Jazz curriculum is the latest addition to the Institute’s popular Jazz in America curriculum, available free of charge at The Jazz in America curriculum presents an historical overview, examines characteristics of various jazz styles, highlights contributions of important performers and composers, and explores the social, economic, and political contexts within which jazz evolved. The curriculum for each grade level features eight 50-minute lessons to be taught as a regular part of each school’s social studies or American history courses. In addition to the lesson plans, the curriculum Web site includes a teacher’s manual, student handoutstest bank, and comprehensive Jazz Resource Library.

The Blues and Jazz curriculum writing team was led by Dr. J.B. Dyas, the Institute’s Vice President for Education and Curriculum Development. The team members included Bob Blumenthal, an executive at Marsalis Music and former jazz critic for The Boston Globe; Howard Mandel, an award-winning journalist and author who served as editor of The Billboard Illustrated Encyclopedia of Jazz and Blues; and David Vigilante, Associate Director of the National Center for History in the Schools.

The blues and jazz have much in common. The blues is a clear reflection of our nation’s history and has become a foundation for many types of popular art and entertainment. Jazz as we know it would not exist without the blues. As the blues and jazz continue to evolve, the connection remains unbroken.