Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Poetry in the Classroom - Just Jazz! (Musical Poetry, Part 1)

Music has always been a big part of my life. I grew up listening to jazz, big band, and Dixieland music. During my adolescence I sat a few rows back from center stage at Artpark and heard the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, and Joe Williams. As I grew and made some of my own concert choices, I found myself watching Billy Joel, Elton John, The Police, Bon Jovi, Run DMC, Garth Brooks, and others. Today I still attend concerts in a wide range of musical forms. Given my love of music, it seems only fitting that music would find it's way into my poetic life.

Today for part one of this musical journey I'm focusing on jazz, so put on some Armstrong (I'm listening to Jelly Roll Morton!) and read along.
Jazz, written by Walter Dean Myers and illustrated by Christopher Myers, is a collection of poems covering the history of jazz that begins along the Nile and ends on Bourbon Street. In between it covers ragtime to boogie, and every style in between. The poems are accompanied by vibrant paintings that celebrate different styles of jazz.
Start with rhythm
Start with the heart
Along the Nile
A black man's drum
Start with
Start with
Work songs
From the soul

Poem ©Walter Dean Myers. All rights reserved.
In addition to the poems, the book opens with a terrific introduction to jazz and includes a selective glossary and chronology.

Becoming Billie Holiday is a fictional verse memoir that tells the story of Holiday's life from birth through age 25. The poems carry titles from Billie’s songbook. The writing is tender and vivid, matter-of-factly portraying the ups and downs that dominated the singer's life. You'll see from the cover image that this book was awarded a Coretta Scott King honor award for writing. Here is one of the poems from this book.

How Deep Is The Ocean

Without the microphone
there would be no spotlight,
no band backing me
with bluesy swing.

My voice was too small,
barely an octave,
but the mic enlarged my songs,
let me hold listeners close.

With the microphone,
my voice was an ocean,
deep as my moods,
and audiences dove in.

Poem ©Carole Boston Weatherford. All rights reserved.
What is a fictional verse memoir? Weatherford explains it this way.
It combines elements of the novel, biography, oral history, persona poem, and one-woman show into a unique genre. The fictional verse memoir is ideally suited to Billie Holiday's sassy, soulful and sophisticated style.
Weatherford has created a web site for the book where you will find a reading guide, book trailer, and other informative links.
Jazz ABZ: An A to Z Collection of Jazz Portraits with Art Print, written by Wynton Marsalis and illustrated by Paul Rogers, is a collection of 26 verse profiles of jazz greats, with each poem reflecting the musical style of the musician or performer. Brief biographies by Phil Schapp are included for each artist. Here is an excerpt from the first poem.

Armstrong almighty!
An ad-libbing acrobat.
American ambassador of affirmation.
Adventurous author of ambrosial aires.
Absolute architect of the Jazz Age.

Poem ©Wynton Marsalis. All rights reserved.
What you need to know about this poem is that the words on the page are spaced in such a way that it forms the triangular outline of the letter A, so you need to see the poem as well as read it aloud. The alliteration works well in this poem and many others. You can listen to this poem read in its entirety, as well as hear some others at the NPR web site.

Here are some resources that you may find useful in learning more about jazz.
  • Did you know that April is Jazz Appreciation Month?
  • PBS Jazz Kids has information about jazz greats, a timeline, interactives to experiment with playing or leading a band, and more.
  • Jazz lesson plans is the educator site accompanying PBS Jazz Kids.
  • NEA Jazz in the Schools is a "web-based curriculum and DVD toolkit that explores jazz as an indigenous American art form and as a means to understand American history."
  • The classroom section for the Ken Burns film JAZZ has a number of lesson resources and materials for teachers.
  • Smithsonian Jazz at the National Museum of American History presents a range of resources to explore, appreciate, and experience jazz. Be sure to check out the education resources.
  • Jazz for Young People is the online component of the Lincoln Center's jazz curriculum. It provides information about the history of jazz and its artists and includes recordings, readings, photographs, videos, and activities.
  • The Jazz Institute of Chicago has an article entitled Jazz for the Youngest Hep Cats that highlights some songs and books useful for introducing children to this musical form.
Have I missed a favorite jazzed up book of poetry? Please let me know so that I can include it here.

**NOTE** - Part 2 of Musical Poetry continues with a focus on swing, blues and other musical forms or musically inspired poetry. (Don't worry, you'll see titles by Marilyn Nelson, Arnold Adoff, and Jaime Adoff tomorrow!)

1 comment:

  1. Wow, Tricia! Your two posts are amazing :) I'm so glad you've shared them with me and the carnival today, I've found them quite inspirational. Off to see how many I can find in our library catalouge.