Sample Class Assignments & Activities (All Levels)


Sample Class Jumpstart Assignment

Step 1: Play the following paired examples for your students (in their entirety, and without disclosing the name of the artist)

  • a. The Bee Gees – How Can You Mend A Broken Heart
  • b. Al Green – How Can You Mend A Broken Heart
  • a. Count Basie – In A Mellow Tone
  • b. Duke Ellington – In A Mellow Tone
  • a. Hound Dog – Big Momma Thornton
  • b. Hound Dog – Jack Turner
  • a. All The Things You Are – Dave Brubeck (album:  At the College of the Pacific)
  • b. All The Things You Are –Johnny Griffin (album: A Blowin’ Session)

 Step 2: After listening, ask your students to compare/contrast the paired audio examples above with the following questions in mind:

  1. What musical attributes do you feel connect and separate the music examples above?
  2. What do you think is the ethnicity of the artist of each example above? What do you hear that supports your conclusion?
  3. Which version of each tune does the student personally prefer, and why?




Simple Research Assignments (in 30 minutes or less)

Option A: Identifying Ethnic Representation in Music

Listen to the examples below and answer the following questions:

  1. What do you feel is the ethnicity of the artist being heard.
  2. What do you hear in the music that supports your conclusion? Be as specific and complete as possible in compiling your list.
  3. Does this music emanate from one of the notable African-American musical traditions? If so, which one?

Choose 6 from the following:

  • Lisa Stansfield – “Been Around the World”
  • Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings – “100 Days, 100 Nights”**
  • Michael Franks – “Popsicle Toes”**
  • Amy Winehouse – “Valerie”**
  • Tom Browne – Funkin’ for Jamaica
  • Bobby Caldwell – “What You Won’t Do for Love”**
  • Lee Morgan – “Cornbread”
  • Ahmad Jamal – Pointcienna
  • Cannonball Addrely –Barefoot Sunday Blues**
  • Charlie Byrd and Stan Getz – Desafinado**

** Indicates Author Recommendation for Best 6 to Start With

Option B: Role of Cultural Context in Extracting Meaning from Music

Step 1 – Without divulging the artist or song title, listen to “Part 1: Acknowledgement”** from John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme in its entirety (@7 min) without interruption. Jot down your impressions of the music, including (but not limited to) the emotions it evokes in you, the pictures that the music brings to mind as you listen and your personal like or dislike (in the overall general sense) of what it is that you’ve heard.

Step 2 – Have students engage in some light research to unearth the backstory behind “A Love Supreme”. A great place to do so would be, but many other quality resources exist online. Take a moment to read the article and ponder the contextual meaning of this particular work.

Step 3 – With this newly acquired knowledge, now go back and listen to “Acknowledgement” again. As you listen, write down any changes and/or newly-discovered observations about the music as you listen for a second time. More importantly, be sure to record changes in your like or dislike of the music. Why the change of heart, if any?

At the core of the book is the argument that cultural context is often overlooked, yet absolutely consequential in the cultural identity and aesthetic urgency behind jazz as practiced outside the academy. This exercise allows the student to tangibly understand the ways in which such information (be it visual or cultural) provides valuable context in understanding the intended meaning, embodied purpose, and feelings emoted in Black music. More importantly, how the lack of such things impact the listener directly.

**This can be expanded to the entire A Love Supreme album if there is a need/desire to generate a larger-scale listening-based assignment that requires students to think a bit deeper on this subject.

Activities Outside the Classroom

A. Black Music Field Trip – The Black Gospel Tradition in Exemplifying “Soulfulness”

The African-American Gospel tradition is a strong example of the potent esthetics and convention bending that are commonly at home in Black music, and is a style that has contributed much musically to both jazz and the evolution of post-1930’s Black music as a whole.

Identify one African-American church (local, or in a reachable urban area, if necessary) whose style of worship and worship music clearly emanates from the Black church/gospel music tradition. Attend a church service, and pay close attention to both the esthetic attributes and energy present in the worship music AND the preaching style of the church’s pastor. What musical elements and/or characteristics can be observed in both aspects of the church service? How does it differ from the music and preaching style of ethnic traditions outside of Black culture? Have the students take careful and candid notes of the things they see, hear, and FEEL during the musical performances.

B. Black Music Field Trip 2: Live Performance and the “Electricity” Between Performer and Audience

Identify and attend the live performance of a music group that specializes in music emanating from the African-American music tradition. While jazz is certainly a welcome choice here, your group selection may include other popular Black music styles such as Blues, R&B, Soul, Funk or Neo-Soul. Since Black music and its related cultural esthetics is the focal point of the book, every effort should be made to find a group that is comprised of African-American musicians (even if the requires a bit of traveling to find!). Questions to consider while observing: 1. Do the artists establish a connection with the other listeners in the room, and if so, how? How did the audience react to the music and musicians performing? How does the concert-going etiquette differ from that of Eurocentrically-derived musics? What are the perceived goals that the music (and the musicians) are governed by? What musical/esthetic/cultural tools and/or devices are used in the groups efforts to reach those goals?

Sample Digital Term Assignments/Projects: Undergraduate

Option 1: Videotape an interview of one jazz studies professor and one jazz student in your institutions jazz studies program which asks (student-generated) questions related to the difficult issues discussed in the book. Create an integrative slide presentation that compares/contrasts the viewpoints on the questions asked from both sides of the pedagogical equation. For an added layer of interest (the student/teacher dynamic in the conveyance of an aesthetic value system), stipulate that the student selected to be interviewed must be studying under the selected jazz professor.

Option 2: Create a video or audio montage (depending on student media editing abilities) that asks both musicians and general listeners “What are the top 3 things that you value/listen for in music?”. Interview subjects should be a liberal mixture of musicians, instructors and non-musicians alike. Frame the responses received with an analytical response from the student that places the audio/visual clips into a cohesive context. The final project may be presented in the format of a podcast or edited video montage.

Option 3 (listening-based): Attend 2 jazz concerts: one concert from your school’s jazz program (in a school concert venue) and one live jazz performance at a local club/bar/music venue. Create a blogpost that compares/contrasts the difference between experiencing jazz in each environment, including the concert going experience AND the esthetic properties of the music in each environment. Conclude the blogpost with a personal analysis of the efficacy of the music in each environment and the ways that each performance either corroborates or contradicts the conclusions presented in the book.

Sample Digital Term Assignments/Projects: Graduate Level

Option 1: Using a set of questions (created by the student) that directly ask about embodied cultural and aesthetic musical values prized by each, identify and interview: 1. A notable jazz professor in the nation, 2. A doctoral level jazz graduate student, and 3. A professional jazz musician who earns their living playing jazz music in a major urban market. Create a basic website that presents the individuals chosen and responses that each person gives to your questions. In a “conclusions” page, compare/contrast the differences in the responses given by each individual, and their alignment with the findings outlined in the book.

Option 2: Using a set of questions generated by the student, interview 4 musicians: 1 Black musician and 1 white musician who teaches within academia, and 1 Black and 1 White musician who makes their primary living performing jazz music. Create a podcast that compares/contrasts the inherent musical value system of each individual using clips from each interview as a framework for the student to discuss their individual findings and how they relate to the conclusions reached in the book.