Kids are born to improvise. They have no problem picking up an instrument and playing a “song” that they make up as they go along. And jazz is all about improvisation. April is National Jazz Appreciation Month with April 30 being National Jazz Day. April was chosen in recognition of the birthdays of jazz greats that happen this month – Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Gerry Mulligan, and Tito Puente.
I’ve heard that you either love or hate jazz. But if you think you may not like jazz, it could just be that you haven’t heard the right kind of jazz for you. So why not take this month and explore with your children some of the best that jazz has to offer. And maybe have a jam session of your own. Here are some of the better known and critically acclaimed jazz songs and musicians throughout history.
Miles Davis – So What
This is from his album “Kind of Blue”, which is still the best selling jazz album out there. It’s a classic and probably the first album with which most people are introduced to jazz.
Dave Brubeck Quartet – Take Five
You’ve probably heard this one in commercials and movies. Written by the alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, it was originally recorded in 1959 for the album “Time Out”. This jazz standard consistently is on the charts and recorded by other artists. As a result, Desmond left the royalty rights to the American Red Cross and it earns them on average $100,000 a year.
John Coltrane – Blue Train
Another jazz standard that you’re likely to recognize. I myself have heard it many time playing in the background of Sunday brunches in my 20s. “Blue Train” is from the album Blue Train that was released in 1958 on Blue Note Records. The starting melody is in E-flat minor, then the chord progression changes to E-flat major for the improvised section. In the end, it returns to the original minor key for the reinstatement of the melody.
Thelonious Monk Quartet – Round Midnight
Another jazz standard that Monk originally composed sometime in 1940 or 1941, but there is some anecdotal evidence that suggests he may have written an early version around 1936 when he was 19. Monk’s compositions and improvisations feature dissonances and angular melodic twists. He also had an unorthodox approach to the piano, which combined a highly percussive attack with abrupt, dramatic use of switched key releases, silences, and hesitations.
Duke Ellington – Take the A Train
This song is not only a jazz standard but an American standard. Based in New York City, Ellington became popular nationally with his orchestra’s appearances at the Cotton Club in Harlem. In the 1930s, his orchestra toured Europe. “Take the A Train” is probably the most well-known jazz song and one of the first that many students learn. It was composed in 1939, and you’ll hear it in movies and shows that take place in the 1940s.
If you want to delve deeper into jazz, you should check out the PBS Jazz site that offers a great primer on jazz and features the Ken Burns documentary.