Cultural Literacy: Jazz

Here is a Cultural Literacy worksheet on Jazz. This is a full-page worksheet, so it is suitable for independent practice.

Jazz is principal genre of music played at Mark’s Text Terminal; in fact, as I type this, Kenny Dorham is playing “Blue Friday” from his fine 1959 recording Quiet Kenny. It’s a quartet set with Mr. Dorham backed by a rhythm section including pianist Tommy Flanagan, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Art Taylor

When I listened to jazz for the first time in high school (let the record reflect it was the original Impulse long-play vinyl record of John Coltrane Live at the Village Vanguard, side two, the almost 17-minute-long version of “Chasin’ the Trane”) , and I mean really listened, rather than simply heard, I knew I would be an aficionado of the music for the rest of my life. 

Over the years, the word Jazz (especially spelled out with a lower-case j) began to trouble me. Aside from its slangy sound and therefore connotation, it seemed like a miserly word to describe such original, variegated, and stately music. So, a few years back, when I heard an interview the great trumpeter (see him live if you can!) Nicholas Payton in which he said he takes issue with the word Jazz, I was relieved to hear him say it. He prefers the term “Black American Music,” which sounds good to me. If you’re interested in learning more of Mr. Payton’s thoughts about Jazz, you might want to take a look at this 2011 post from his blog.

Clint Eastwood has often said that Jazz and Blues are the perhaps “the only original art forms that we have” in the United States. It’s hard to disagree with that, and it’s hard not to at least consider the fact that Jazz especially has been ignored in the United States for two simple reasons: racism and a lack of good taste, tendencies that far too many Americans express proudly. Jazz is our classical music, and maybe for that reason alone it is time to find a new name for this complex, vibrant, uniquely American music.

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

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