Students analyze a piece of jazz music and compose a piece of their own.
- Length: 1 or more class periods
- Grades: 9-12
- Students will understand and analyze elements of a jazz instrumental: a performance by Louis Armstrong and the Hot Five of “Weary Blues.”
“Louis Armstrong: Weary Blues”
From: Humanities Through the Arts
(or a Louis Armstrong CD containing “Weary Blues”)
Vocabulary, Materials, and Handouts
breaks/solos, call and response, improvisation, large/small ensembles, march, melody, ragtime, rhythm, syncopation, texture, timbre (tone color), unison
Structure Analysis Chart handout (one per student), variety of simple instruments (for Performance Assessment)
- Structure Analysis Chart
Instructional Strategies and Activities
Louis Armstrong began to play the trumpet in brass bands and ensembles at an early age. By the time he formed his band the Hot Five, the popularity of jazz music, a new innovation based on African musical influences, was on the rise. Armstrong’s performance of “Weary Blues” illustrates jazz ensemble playing and the elements of jazz performance at their best.
Where To Find Jazz Music
KET both produces and airs programs featuring jazz music and documenting the contributions of jazz music to American culture. Check the KET schedule for programs that might enrich your study of jazz. Some programs to look for include the KET series In Performance at the Governors Mansion, which has spotlighted the states many excellent musicians.
Many colleges and universities have jazz musicians on their faculties and sponsor jazz bands; some high schools do, too. Check with the Kentucky Arts Council for a list of jazz musicians in Kentucky. Even better, talk with the KAC about a grant that would enable you to sponsor a musician-in-residence.
Show the “Louis Armstrong: Weary Blues” video excerpt. Ask students to listen carefully and take notes as Keith McCutchen explains the elements of jazz and discusses the piece, then listen to the tune itself (which may be repeated if necessary). On first play, they should listen carefully to distinguish the unison sections and the breaks or solo sections. They also should try to distinguish the accompaniment from the solos.
After this initial playing of the tune, have the class define and discuss the terms introduced by McCutchen (see Critical Vocabulary). Be sure students have a clear understanding of these terms before they attempt an analysis.
Provide each student with the Structure Analysis Chart handout. This chart will help them listen to and analyze the piece. Begin by determining the piece’s sections and listing them in the far left column. Decide on a way to identify each section (e.g., give the counter numbers from the VCR or identify in and out cues).
Next, have students listen critically to a repeat play of “Weary Blues” and chart the tune’s progression as they listen. When they finish this playing of the tune, repeat it if necessary to allow them to fill in any gaps or missed sections from the initial listening. When students finish listening to and analyzing the tune with the charts, they should have a clear understanding of the anatomy of Armstrong’s “Weary Blues,” a standard early jazz tune.
As a class, discuss and compare the results of the analyses and listen to the tune a final time. Point out and discuss anything about the tune that was not covered in the chart. If time permits, find other Louis Armstrong tunes or other jazz standards of the period and have students put them under analysis. This activity will help students train their ears to better understand and appreciate jazz music. It also will help them compose a piece of jazz music themselves as part of the Performance Assessment.
Writing To Communicate
Have students write a critique or review of a piece of jazz music, a jazz recording, a jazz video, or a radio or live concert. (Many National Public Radio or PBS affiliates air jazz programs; check newspaper listings.) The critiques/reviews could be published in the student newspaper or collected in a class booklet of reviews of good jazz music, Teen Jazz Review, copies of which could be made available in the schools media center.
Applications Across the Curriculum
- Read some of the poetry of Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Nikki Giovanni and identify and discuss the musical, jazz feel of the poems.
- Have students inquire into how brass, string, and woodwind instruments make their unique sounds. Describe the tone color (timbre) of each instrument or instrument family.
- Jazz and blues music have always provided people with music to soothe their souls. Suggest how Weary Blues and other tunes (based on their titles) might have helped Americans deal with personal and social changes during difficult times.
- Many jazz musicians are self-taught or pick up musical knowledge by listening to players or recordings rather than going to school and being trained professionally. Discuss what it is about jazz music that makes this method of learning possible.
Open Response Assessment
According to Keith McCutchen, jazz music such as Louis Armstrongs Weary Blues is based on the exchange between group playing and instrumental breaks or solos, creating both contrast and unity through the form and structure of the music.
Interpreting the information from your chart of Louis Armstrongs Weary Blues (or an alternate tune chosen by your teacher), compose a written analysis of the tune and discuss it according to McCutchens statement (see Prompt) about jazz music.
Open Response Scoring Guide
|Student demonstrates extensive knowledge of concepts, vocabulary, and historical/cultural context of the art form and applies this knowledge consistently and effectively. Student communicates this knowledge and understanding effectively, with insightful use of supporting examples and/or details.||Student demonstrates broad knowledge of concepts, vocabulary, and historical/cultural context of the art form and applies this knowledge effectively. Student communicates this knowledge and understanding effectively, with use of supporting examples and/or details.||Student demonstrates basic knowledge of concepts, vocabulary, and historical/cultural context of the art form and makes correct application of this knowledge. Student communicates this knowledge and understanding using some supporting examples and/or details.||Student demonstrates limited knowledge of concepts, vocabulary, and historical/cultural context of the art form and makes inappropriate or underdeveloped application of this knowledge. Student communicates this knowledge ineffectively, with few or no supporting examples and/or details.||Student offers blank or irrelevant response.|
In a group of 4-5 students, create/improvise an original jazz tune.
Have students listen to Weary Blues and as many other jazz tunes as time permits (at school or at home). Then, using simple instruments, have groups of students collaborate to compose and perform a tune demonstrating unison play, breaks or solos (with or without accompaniment), tone colors, syncopation, and any other elements of jazz music that seem appropriate. Examples of simple instruments include kazoos; tin whistles; slide whistles; box-top ukuleles; homemade banjos; washboards; simple drums or other percussion-style instruments such as spoons, rhythm sticks, beans or sand in cans; and mouth/body music (use of body parts, such as clapping; stomping; slapping knee or jaw; and mouth sounds, such as oom-pahs, glisses, tongue clicks, etc.). The imagination can play a role in the creation of instruments.
Alternately, students could use vocalization to imitate instruments. (Try to obtain recordings of the a cappella pop group the BOBs, who demonstrate vocal turns imitating instruments. The group does a great version of Jimi Hendrixs popular Purple Haze.)
Performance Scoring Guide
|Student completes assignment effectively, exhibiting extensive understanding of elements and/or design principles of the art form. Student demonstrates extensive critical thinking skills and creativity in completing the assignment. Student completes all aspects of the task in an incisive and thorough manner.||Student completes assignment effectively, exhibiting broad understanding of elements and/or design principles of the art form. Student demonstrates broad critical thinking skills and creativity in completing the assignment. Student successfully completes all aspects of the task.||Student completes assignment, exhibiting basic understanding of elements and/or design principles of the art form. Student demonstrates basic use of critical thinking skills and creativity in completing the assignment. Student partially completes the task and/or is unsuccessful in attempts to address some parts of the task.||Student works on assignment, exhibiting minimal understanding of elements and/or design principles of the art form. Student makes little or no use of critical thinking skills and creativity in completing the assignment. Student minimally completes the task, showing minimal interest or enthusiasm.||Student shows little or no evidence of having attempted to complete the task.|
Support - Connections - Resources - Author
- Jazz, a film by Ken Burns. Video/DVD available from PBS.
- Find information about jazz history and performers at the PBS Jazz web site (www.pbs.org/jazz/).
- Hasse, John Edward, ed. Jazz: The First Century. New York: William Morrow/Harper Collins, 2000.
- Jazz for Dummies.
- Ken Burns Jazz: The Story of America’s Music (a 5-CD set accompanying the Ken Burns PBS series). Sony Music/Verve Music Group, 2000.