1. Read the Essay
Ask students to read the essay in print or online at www.neajazzintheschools.org. Students should explore the online resources (introductory video, audio clips, and photos) as they read. Ask students to note characteristics of the immediate postwar period, and contrast descriptions in the essay with those in other sources that the students are using for class (such as textbooks or primary sources).
2. Change in the Wake of World War II
Review with students the social and economic changes immediately following the American Civil War, World War I, and World War II. After each of these wars, large numbers of soldiers were released from the military into a changed society. What were the most important economic changes as a result of these wars? What were the new kinds of economic opportunities, or difficulties? What were the social and economic implications for African Americans in each postwar period? When World War II ended, America was a global superpower—rivaled only by the Soviet Union—and an economic giant. Veterans were able to take advantage of the G.I. Bill of Rights to go to college and get loans for homes and businesses. Much of America, however, was still segregated, and many African Americans were not able to take full advantage of America’s growing economy. How might the war and the subsequent demobilization have affected jazz and popular music?
3. Civil Rights
Review with students the African-American experience in postwar America. Many blacks had served with distinction in World War II but returned to a segregated society. Southern Democrats who were opposed to President Truman’s support of civil rights supported a third-party candidate, “Dixiecrat” Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, a strong pro-segregationist. Many blacks were deeply angered by the lack of progress toward full equality. Through discussion, compare and contrast the impact of the following events that eventually contributed to desegregating American society. In retrospect, each event contributed to what seems now to be an almost inevitable outcome. How did each of these events contribute to desegregation and ending discrimination? Which events were most significant?
(1) In 1941, A. Philip Randolph (of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters) got President Franklin D. Roosevelt to stop discrimination in defense industries by planning a march on Washington, D.C. (2) In 1948, President Truman ended the practice of segregation in the armed forces. (3) In 1954, in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, the Supreme Court overruled its earlier “separate but equal” decision in Plessy v. Ferguson that had justified segregated schools. (4) The Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott of 1955–56 brought Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to prominence. (5) In 1957, President Eisenhower sent troops to enforce school desegregation in Little Rock, Arkansas, that was opposed by Governor Orval Faubus. (6) Dr. King led protests against discrimination in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963 and spoke to 200,000 people gathered in Washington, D.C., in support of civil rights. (7) In 1964, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, which outlawed discrimination in public facilities. (8) In 1965, the Voting Rights Act eliminated poll taxes and literacy tests that had been used to keep African Americans from voting.
4. The Music
Familiarize students with significant jazz musicians of the 1940s and 1950s. Focus on Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Clifford Brown, Sonny Rollins, Charles Mingus, Sarah Vaughan, and Thelonious Monk, each of whom expanded our conception of jazz as an art form. Review where they were born, where they lived, where they traveled, and how geography and local culture may have influenced their musical development. Charlie Parker, for example, was from Kansas City, the home of the “territory” swing bands of the 1930s and 1940s, and his music—though complex—always retained the blues sensibility of his hometown. In musical terms, explain how bebop soloists, such as Parker and Gillespie, set new standards for virtuosity as they expanded the harmonic and rhythmic potential of jazz improvisation. Jazz artists also were more eclectic and individualistic than before; some (like Gillespie and Rollins) incorporated Afro-Cuban and West Indian styles; others (like Davis) chose a more spare or “cool” sound, with little vibrato; and still others (like Mingus and Roach) used their music as a means of political expression.
Introduce students to the musical characteristics of bebop, cool jazz, hard bop, and Afro-Cuban jazz, along with representative artists. Point out that these definitions can be limiting. Although each style has defining char-acteristics, artists routinely cross stylistic boundaries. (These two steps can also be effective as group or individual research, or presentations.)
5. The Role of Artists
Ask students if they appreciate their favorite artists for the content of their music (or film, visual art, etc.) or because they are engaging entertainers. Or are these ideas inextricably linked? Can they think of inspiring artists that are also great entertainers? During the 1940s and 1950s, personal expression became more important to some jazz musicians than pleasing an audience. Jazz musicians tended to see themselves as artists, rather than entertainers (although there were a number of jazz musicians that were both great artists and entertainers).
6. Jazz and the Cold War
Ask students why the U.S. government thought that jazz musicians would be effective ambassadors for American culture during the Cold War. What means of propaganda were available at that time to the United States and the Soviet Union? Why might the enormous popularity of jazz music and musicians help sway the population of developing countries to the American side of the Cold War? Note that the content and dissemination of art is often rigidly controlled in totalitarian societies. The freedom of jazz seemed to reflect the freedom and innovation of American culture. And yet the State Department–sponsored tours by jazz musicians highlighted the continuation of civil rights struggles at home. Did the State Department tours advance the cause of civil rights for African Americans?