Spark Students' Interest in Jazz during JAM

Representatives of the Quincy Jones Foundation recently met at MENC headquarters to discuss the integration of a Quincy Jones American Popular Music Curriculum into school curricula throughout the U.S. Among those attending was Bill Banfield, a professor at Berklee College of Music, and a jazz composer and recording artist.

While at MENC, Banfield spoke to MENC’s Jazz Network team about the challenges facing jazz educators today and utilizing Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM) to get students excited about jazz.

Jazz: Struggling Yet Strong within the Band Tradition

“While there are a great number of middle school and high school jazz programs,” said Banfield, “all of them are dealing with this question: the identity and the value of jazz and how to get kids excited about it.”

Although he conceded there’s a dwindling interest in jazz in the larger culture, “If there’s any tradition that’s most alive in the band tradition besides new music, it’s jazz.”

One of the biggest challenges to attracting new jazz musicians and developing their skills is a lack of places outside of school for kids to practice and meet up with jazz mentors: “If there’s no place to play, if there are no venues for kids, if there are no foreseeable American Idols of jazz on TV, what does a kid do with all these great skills that he or she has being a great trumpet player, a great saxophone player or baritone saxophone player?”

Ideas for Jazz Appreciation Month

Jazz Appreciation Month offers an opportunity to get students interested in jazz by playing, studying, and listening to jazz in all classes across the curriculum.

Banfield suggested principals could play jazz music over the loudspeaker while students walked to class, mixing big band and bebop music with the music of artists like Erykah Badu, Sting, and Ani DiFranco. “Then the kids really get a sense of what the music is and how it connects,” said Banfield.

Other activities he suggested for students during JAM:

  • Study the history of jazz, along with the literature of the Harlem Renaissance.
  • Have the visual arts and dance classes collaborate on creative works connected to jazz, bebop, and big bands.
  • Encourage them to wear authentic clothing from the big band era.
  • Watch jazz performances on YouTube, and use other online resources to explore jazz history and music.

Bill C. Banfield currently serves as professor of Africana Studies/Music and Society, director of Africana Studies programs, Berklee College of Music. He is a renowned composer, author, recording artist, and musical director. His works have been commissioned by orchestras across the country. For a full biography, visit his Web site

– Anne Wagener, March 25, 2010, ©  National Association for Music Education