1. Read the Essay
Ask students to read the essay in print or online at www.neajazzinthe schools.org. Students should explore the online resources (introductory video, audio clips, and photos) as they read. Have students note musical, social, and political characteristics of the 1960s described in the essay and in the online resources. (Their notes can be used in the following lesson steps and research projects.) Compare the content of the essay with other sources you use in class (such as textbooks or primary sources). What is the relative emphasis on cultural, social, and political events? Should historians place equal emphasis on these different areas? How does the essay’s emphasis on musical events round out our conception of the history of this period?
2. The 1960s
Ask students to note and contrast the events, moods, and characteristics of the 1960s with those of each of the previous four decades. The 1920s, ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s can each be defined by their particular political, social, cultural, and economic developments. You can develop a chart with the students—with lists of important musical, political, social, foreign policy, and civil rights events—using their work on the previous lessons. Use the curriculum timeline as a reference for this activity.
In many ways, the 1960s was a decade of contradictions. On the one hand, these years were characterized by the optimism described at the outset of the essay. However, there was also a significant amount of turbulence and upheaval. The optimism and turbulence were both reflected in the music of the period, including jazz. Ask students to identify examples within the musical selections that reflect optimism, turbulence, or political statements. What musical techniques do the musicians use? Or does the music only reflect the times in retrospect, without conscious intent by the musicians?
3. Optimism and the New Frontier
As the 1960s dawned, President John F. Kennedy seemed to represent a new and positive era for many Americans. Review with students the concept and mythology of America’s frontier, and the hold it had on much of America’s imagination. Discuss President Kennedy’s concept of a New Frontier. What plans and policies did Kennedy articulate as part of the New Frontier, and how were they a reflection of the expanding possibilities for all Americans? You and the class may note that the American frontier of the 19th century, while providing an unparalleled opportunity for many, was also the scene of violent and divisive racial, political, and economic conflict. Kennedy’s vision, on the other hand, was inclusive. Many young people were inspired to join the Peace Corps and the civil rights movement.
The jazz of the early 1960s provided a backdrop for the civil rights struggle. There was also a sense of endless artistic possibilities within jazz, as new musical frontiers were explored. Hard bop and soul jazz were essential expressions of the African-American experience, and contemporary jazz musicians were exploring previously uncharted musical territory. Explore the precedents of 1960s jazz by first listening with the students to a few of the influential 1950s recordings that appeared in Lesson 3 (Horace Silver, “The Preacher,” John Coltrane, “Giant Steps,”; Miles Davis, “So What”). Then listen to several of the 1960s selections from this lesson: Ornette Coleman, “Lonely Woman”; John Coltrane, “Resolution”; and Eric Dolphy, “Out to Lunch.” How do these pieces expand upon the musical innovations of the 1950s? In what ways are they different?
4. Progress and Social Upheaval
Have students research the accomplishments of the civil rights movement of the 1960s and identify accompanying incidents of violence. Discuss with the class—or have students make presentations about—the provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Ask the students to place these laws within the larger context of a struggle for equality and democracy. How were these laws an extension of a process begun with the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution? Specifically, which provisions of each law were connected to each amendment? Why did these acts need to be passed if there were already constitutional guarantees of suffrage? (You can review with students the topics covered in earlier lessons about Jim Crow laws and segregation.)
The accomplishments of the civil rights movement were sometimes accompanied by violence. Have students use primary sources, such as newspapers and magazines from the era, to research events such as the Montgomery, Alabama, church bombing in 1963, the killing of civil rights workers in Mississippi in 1964, and the assassination of Medgar Evers in 1963. Compare these accounts with more recent descriptions obtained from the Internet. How are the descriptions different? Listen with the students to Coltrane’s “Alabama,” described in the essay as an elegy for the girls killed in the Montgomery bombing. How does Coltrane create a haunting mood for the piece? How does the opening section create dramatic interest in the rest of the piece? What rhythmic and melodic elements does Coltrane use? Are there similarities to Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit?”
5. The Music
Familiarize students with the significant jazz musicians described in the essay, including John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Miles Davis, Eric Dolphy, and Wynton Marsalis. Does their music reflect the fundamental elements of jazz—the blues, swing, and improvisation? How does their music relate to the traditions established by Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and others? How did the later musicians carve out their individual identities within the context of the jazz tradition? Saxophonist John Coltrane studied scales intensively and was able to combine scales and arpeggios in virtuosic “sheets of sound” as he improvised over chord changes. Listen again to the Coltrane selections from Lesson 3, particularly “Giant Steps,” and try to follow his endless melodic variations over the complex harmonic structure. Ornette Coleman consciously detached jazz from its rhythmic and melodic tradition in the direction of free expression. Listen to Coleman’s “Lonely Woman” and observe how the drums, bass, and horns start with different rhythms. Wynton Marsalis embraced historical context and a respect for jazz tradition as antidotes to watered-down pop jazz and the excesses of fusion (listen to Marsalis’s “Black Codes,”). (This step can also be effective as individual research, or as group presentations on each artist.)