Leading jazz, American culture scholars to instruct high school teachers this summer

Some of the country’s leading scholars of jazz and American culture will teach at Washington University’s National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute for High School Teachers July 4-29.

“‘Teaching Jazz as American Culture’ will offer participants an exciting opportunity to learn about one of the most extraordinary art forms the United States has ever produced,” says Gerald L. Early, Ph.D., Washington University’s Merle Kling Professor of Modern Letters and director of the Summer Institute.

Gerald L. Early, Ph.D., director of Washington University's National Endowment for the Humanities
Gerald L. Early, Ph.D., director of Washington University’s National Endowment for the Humanities “Teaching Jazz as American Culture” Summer Institute for High School Teachers.

“The instructors in the institute are among the most noted jazz scholars, writers and composers in the country,” says Early, “and the high school teachers’ exposure to this collection of expertise should be both enriching and inspiring.”

Early received a $222,000 grant last year from the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Division of Education Programs to hold the institute under the auspices of the university’s Center for the Humanities in Arts & Sciences, which Early also directs.

The primary goal of the institute is to work with 30 public high school teachers to show how, through the study of the social, cultural, technical and aesthetic history of a major American musical genre — jazz — they can reshape aspects of teaching American history and literature while broadening students’ understanding of the political, social and commercial impact that an artistic movement can have.

“It is hoped that the institute will offer teachers new and engaging ways to teach popular music as a humanities subject, and it is hoped that this endeavor will lead to new ways to teach the humanities, to new ways to see the humanities as cross-disciplinary and interdisciplinary,” says Early, who has written extensively on jazz. He served as consultant for Ken Burns’ Jazz, contributing an essay to the book that accompanied that PBS series.

“Most attempts to use popular culture in schools have been misguided or disingenuous,” adds Early, who is also professor of English and of African and Afro-American studies, both in Arts & Sciences. “This institute is intended to have teachers re-imagine how popular culture can be taught.”

The institute instructors are William C. Banfield, associate professor of music who holds the Endowed Chair in Arts and Humanities at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., where he also founded and directs the American Cultural Studies program; Herman Beavers, professor of English and director of Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania; Scott DeVeaux, associate professor of music at the University of Virginia; Krin Gabbard, professor of comparative literature and English at the State University of New York at Stony Brook;

William Howland Kenney, professor emeritus of history and American studies at Kent State University; Ingrid Monson, the Quincy Jones Professor of African American Music at Harvard University; Robert G. O’Meally, the Zora Neale Hurston Professor of English and director of the Center for Jazz Studies at Columbia University; Gabriel Solis, assistant professor of musicology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; Bruce Boyd Raeburn, curator of the Hogan Jazz Archive at Tulane University; and Sherrie Tucker, associate professor of American studies at the University of Kansas.

Washington University Arts & Sciences professors teaching at the institute are Patrick Burke, Ph.D., assistant professor of music, and Jeff Smith, Ph.D., associate professor in the Performing Arts Department and director of Film and Media Studies.

River city

The institute will offer participants the opportunity to hear live jazz every week to learn to appreciate and understand how jazz is constructed. The performances are done in conjunction with Jazz at the Bistro, a non-profit nightclub and educational initiative in St. Louis that provides a venue for nationally known jazz musicians to perform and to educate at local schools.

The institute plans to take advantage of its location and provide some sessions on the connection between St. Louis and the development of jazz. The participants will visit the Scott Joplin House, which provides not only ragtime performances but also a vivid account of Joplin’s time in St. Louis.

St. Louis was central to the development of jazz in the middle of the country because of its importance as a river city. Jazz traveled along the inland American waterways in far more complex and striking ways than most scholars had previously thought.

St. Louis was one of the centers for ragtime in the United States — the 1904 World’s Fair attracted ragtime players here from around the country — and the city and its near environs of southern Illinois (Alton and East Saint Louis) produced such musicians as Clark Terry, Miles Davis, Grant Green, Oliver Sain, Oliver Lake and Fontella Bass, and young musicians like Russell Gunn, Todd Williams, Jeremy Davenport and Peter Martin.

The 30 high school teachers participating in the institute come from various academic disciplines, including English, history, social studies, art and music. They represent 15 states: California, Connecticut, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.

Participants will develop lesson plans based on class sessions. Robert Nordman, recently retired music supervisor for the St. Louis Public Schools, will join the institute as the master teacher for lesson plan development. Linda Riekes, development officer for the St. Louis Public Schools, will assist him.

“Participants will bring jazz into the American classroom in a way that builds vital academic connections between the development of the various schools of jazz to American literature, history, social studies, art and other forms of music, both popular and classical,” says Early. “The institute hopes to offer a fresh way to understand the world that Americans built.”