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Richard Davis on Jazz

This series introduces students and teachers to the elements of jazz, its history and pioneers, its instruments, and its contribution to American life and culture. The host is Richard Davis, a mainstay of the New York jazz scene and a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Davis intersperses lecture segments with questions from the KET viewing audience, samples of work by jazz masters, and demonstrations of key jazz elements on his string bass. In addition to music, each program in the series addresses topics in social studies, humanities, and African-American studies.

Grade Levels: 5-12
Resource Types: 6 Videos, 1 PDF

Elements of Jazz and Jazz History

Davis presents an overview of key elements of jazz, including beat, tempo, meter, rhythm, improvisation, and the basic 32-bar song format, followed by a quick tour of the rich history of jazz.

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Jazz Pioneers

Davis traces the early years of jazz from its birth with Buddy Bolden through the genius of Thelonious Monk, showcasing samples from the music of more than 20 artists. He explains the social/cultural influences that shaped jazz artists and their music while teaching how to listen to the music to appreciate each musician’s unique contribution.

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Jazz Instruments: Saxophone and Trumpet

Davis highlights the importance of each of these instruments to the jazz sound by demonstrating how various techniques evolved through the work of several artists. He discusses the history of the saxophone and its emergence as a prominent jazz instrument and shares rare recordings from his own collection. He discusses the jazz trumpet sound from Louis Armstrong to Wynton Marsalis, playing examples of how the sound evolved.

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Jazz and Social Protest Movements

Davis examines how jazz has been an integral component of social protest throughout the 20th century and shows an excerpt from the documentary film Jazz in Exile. The film contains performances by some of the leading figures in jazz and explains why they’re often more appreciated in Europe than in the United States.

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Jazz and the Spiritual Experience

Davis performs with keyboardist Keith McCutcheon before an audience of teachers and students and demonstrates the relationship of jazz and blues to religion and culture. With full audience participation, he shows how to create, perform, and respond to jazz.

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Jazz Instruments: Bass and Piano

Davis practices with the jazz band from Lexington’s Lafayette High School, providing insight and encouragement to aspiring young musicians.

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Teacher's Guide

Download the Teacher’s Guide PDF

The teacher’s guide includes a biography of Richard Davis, a description of the Lexington Jazz
Residency Project, letters from Richard to viewers, a guide to teaching young children to appreciate creative music, a glossary of terms, a list of the musicians and their songs, musical notations and a keyboard guide to 12 bars of blues, and a list of suggested references.

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