Great Books, and All That Jazz!

Happy Summer! This is Tanya from Teaching Music: Tanya's Kodály Aspiring Blog
School is out and I love that I don't have to set an alarm clock, (well, my children still provide alarm clock service!)

My slowed down day to day brings to mind that iconic song, Summertime.
"Summertime and the living is easy. Fish are jumpin' and the cotton is high..."

One of my favorite end of the year activities is reading this book to my 6th graders before they leave elementary school:

The artwork in this book is just gorgeous! When I "read" this book I turn the pages and let Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong sing.  Their version of the Gershwins' Summertime is my favorite.  The lush orchestration of Ella and Louis's Summertime and these illustrations go together beautifully. Make sure the students listen closely for the very end of the piece, in the last eight seconds, when the piano strings are lightly strummed from low to high. 

At my school we briefly study jazz in 6th grade. Jazz began as an american genre and part of our heritage that we should embrace. So much of our cultural and political history can be explored through jazz that I often have trouble with what to leave out. During our jazz unit I sometimes feel like more of a social studies teacher. That's one of the wonderful things about teaching music; the opportunity to show how music relates to everything else in our daily lives. But, of course, my main mission is to expose my students to some of the jazz "gems" they should be familiar with. 

To that end, here are a few books that tie jazz to art and poetry.
(Clicking on the image of the cover will bring you to purchase info on

Hip Cat by Jonathan Londan and Woodleigh Hubbard tells the story of a down on his luck sax cat who works hard and eventually finds success in playing his music. The ultra hip beat poet style of the story is very appealing to kids. Read this out loud to students with the cool, suave expression the text demands! We listen to John Coltrane's Giant Steps after we read the book.

Speaking of John Coltrane, his recording of My Favorite Things is an excellent piece for students to hear and compare to other versions they may know.
I read this book to younger grades and we bring it back later while we're re-visiting the song:

My students are always fascinated by Louis Armstrong, especially when we watch videos of him performing. This book What a Wonderful World takes the lyrics and shows a group of diverse children putting on a puppet show centered around Satchmo through bright and colorful illustrations.

This book is a very lyrical poem with rich, sophisticated illustrations. I read this while playing Miles Davis's "All Blues," in the background. (And how can you resist the line "i got 15 trumpets where other women got hips"!)

There are also several wonderful biographies of jazz musicians that are worth sharing with children that I haven't mentioned here. That may be another post for later!

Do you have jazz books that you love read to classes? Please comment and share!

1 comment

  1. Thank you for these book ideas and telling how you present them. This will greatly help as I plan for next year!
    So far, I've only included books (The Wheels on the Bus; Iza Trapani books) for the youngest students.
    Thank you for these ideas for all ages. Keep it up!


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