Why Teach Jazz?

Anyone who’s ever heard Louis Armstrong’s sublime West End Blues, or marveled at Charlie Parker’s breathtaking virtuosity on A Night in Tunisia, will tell you that the answer is self-evident—the music itself.

Once upon a time, jazz was America’s popular music. Millions of regular folks danced to it, and millions more made it the soundtrack of their everyday lives. The notion of jazz as an elitist musical idiom that only a select few can properly appreciate, or simply enjoy, did not exist.

Jazz has much to offer the music educator. Its dynamic, insistent rhythms provide a general music teacher with a wonderful launching pad for introducing his or her students to concepts like time signature and syncopation. Plus, improvisation, which is at the heart of all jazz, is Standard 3 of the National Standards for Music Education.

Need more convincing? These long-time jazz educators had this to say:

“Many of our music educators have come to realize that an education in jazz can develop stronger musicianship; build a student’s self-confidence; increase self-esteem; promote teamwork; enhance individual responsibility; develop keen listening skills along with good rhythm, feel, and intonation. When students are enrolled in jazz ensembles or combos, they have an opportunity to engage themselves in a musical experience that goes beyond their concert and marching bands, and orchestra classes (beyond the Western European or Classical traditions).”

–Dr. Willie L. Hill, former MENC and IAJE President

“Teaching young musicians how to improvise and play jazz gives them independence and promotes self worth. Jazz teaches the importance of mastering scales, chords, articulation, and theory. It also stirs up one’s imagination and opens channels of creativity. And it often allows them to continue playing music long after the classroom has disappeared.”

–Jamey Aebersold, jazz educator, author and owner of Jamey Aebersold Jazz

“Jazz is our American music and deserves a place at the core of our music curriculum. It is freeing and should be something students experience as part of their music education. Improvisation is to me the highest form of musical expression. When someone can communicate feelings musically they not only have a command of their instrument but also a command of their feelings.”

— Kimberly McCord, Associate Professor and Coordinator of Undergraduate Music Education at Illinois St. University

–Nick Webb, June 24, 2008, ©The National Association for Music Education