The rhythms, sounds and swing of jazz are deeply rooted in African American history, and with February designated as Black History Month, this is a perfect time to introduce children to this style of music. Several colourful and engaging books exist that capture the rhythmic qualities of jazz. Older children can also learn about the racism and injustices black jazz musicians faced, and how the music often reflected a desire for freedom or a cry against injustices.
There’s plenty of entertainment for children ages 2-4 in Jazz Baby (Harcourt, $17.95) by Lisa Wheeler. The story takes the form of a jazz song, lovingly created by family members as they hand around a baby. Each person adds something to the song, whether it’s an older sister snapping her fingers or granny singing a scat (an improvisation using nonsense syllables). The baby responds to all this joyful music with his own clapping or singing, which readers can also imitate to experience the joys of jazz. The book culminates in a big jazz dance party before the baby cuddles up to go to sleep. The large print and urban art gives the book a playful visual quality that conveys the same sense of movement as jazz itself.
Jazz on a Saturday Night (Scholastic Books, $20.99) by Leo and Diane Dillon, aimed at ages 5-7, recreates a fictional musical jam session between jazz masters such as Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Ella Fitzgerald. In rhyming verse, the book describes the improvisational nature of jazz and the various instruments used to create it. The story is beautifully illustrated with dark paintings, which capture the faces of the jazz musicians and their emotions as they delve into the music. The book also comes with a CD that has an introduction to jazz and its instruments, as well as suggestions for recordings by the featured musicians.
The picture book biography Dizzy (Arthur A. Levine, $21.99) by Jonah Winter, introduces jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie to children ages 5-7. The book begins with Gillespie’s difficult childhood in South Carolina where he was abused by his father and bullied by other kids. After turning to violence himself, he finally found release in music, learning to play the trumpet. Jazz allowed him to channel his rebelliousness and energy into sound and improvisation. His talent also permitted him to leave his small town and discover new places and sounds. The story provides a great example for children of how art can be an emotional outlet, where creation is better than frustration.
The Newberry award-winning novel Bud, Not Buddy (Yearling, $8.99) by Christopher Paul Curtis, brings readers ages 8-12 into the world of a jazz band as seen through the eyes of an orphan searching for his father. Set during the Depression, the story follows 10-year-old Bud, who believes his real father is a jazz musician and so runs away from his foster home to find him. On his journey, Bud must confront both racism and the desperate times created by the Depression era poverty. Yet Bud holds onto his hope and discovers that music, specifically jazz, can make the world a better place.
Jazz music for kids
If you’re looking for a lively introduction to jazz, you won’t go wrong with Gail Issenman’s two CDs Swinging the ABC’s and Swinging…Too. The Montreal singer, songwriter and mother of three has created toe-tapping arrangements to children’s classics like This Old Man and The Wheels on the Bus while adding a swinging beat to some unusual choices (Bach’s Invention No. 8 and Carole King’s You’ve Got A Friend). This is music the whole family can enjoy and sing along to. Issenman has a clear, warm voice that pulls the listener in and the song selection moves easily from up-tempo pieces to slower numbers. Her CDs can be purchased online at www.greendoormusic.com for $20, including all taxes and shipping.