[Dixielandjazz] Playing For Kids

Stephen Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Thu Mar 4 19:37:32 PST 2004

>From 1 PM till 2 PM today, Barbone Street Jazz Band played Dixieland for
Kids at Chadd's Ford Elementary School, a few miles outside of
Philadelphia. The kids were YOUNG, from Kindergarten to 5th Grade.
Mostly under 10 years old. We were in the Gym/Auditorium room of the

The Kids were exceptionally well behaved. The Principal told us that if
we wanted to quiet them, all we need do is raise our right arm palm
outward. She did this to open the program and within 10 seconds, the
room of 250 youngsters was quiet, all with their arms upraised also.

After she introduced us, I told them who we were, and asked if anyone
knew what jazz was About 20 kids raised hands, and I chose 3. (The 4th
and 5th graders do have a music appreciation course)

1) "Jazz is soft music that's kind of dreamy".
2) "Jazz is loud and doesn't make any sense."
3) "Jazz is American Music"

OK, said I, all answers can be correct given the situation. Jazz is
impossible to define. And so I like what Louis Armstrong said: "Jazz is
what you are". That means jazz is whatever you think it is. We're going
to play "Hot Jazz" which is loud, played originally for dancing and
parties, and we'll try and make some sense out of it. We'll also try and
play some soft and dreamy jazz.

"It all started with musicians who changed the syncopation of popular
songs. We'll play a song you all know, where the notes are all equal."

We then played Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (Horns only) in straight time

Now, here's is our "jazz" version.

Drum starts a rocking 4/4, bass joins him two bars later, banjo joins
them 2 bars later and I say "Can you hear the rhythm?" Yes they yell

Add the horns and we got a grooved Twinkle Twinkle going.

Finish after two chorus's and they applaud loudly. Hmmm. this is going
to be fun.

Introduce the players one by one after each song. Very short bio, then
have player say how he got started playing, then have player demonstrate
all the sounds that can be made with the instrument. Then play song
featuring that horn. (Tiger Rag for Trombone, etc.) Hear the Tiger Roar,
hear the other horns say back "Lets get outta here".

Additional points that we made between songs, with musical illustration
such as:

That jazz is a communication between the players themselves, and by the
players to the audience. (half chorus solos in Indiana, traded 4s, etc.)

That it is OK to clap and move around during a hot jazz performance. OK
to get caught up in the musical flow. Do it! (Bourbon Street Parade)

That songs have a meaning and we try to communicate that meaning in
vocals and instrumentally. (I Can't Give You Anything But Love").

That jazz is the music of freedom. (Mama Don't Allow)

That Jazz conveys emotion. (Tin Roof Blues)

Jazz can be soft and dreamy, yet with a message. (soft Someday You'll Be

We did not try and teach a history of jazz in our short 60 minutes,
which would have been impossible.

We focused on teaching an appreciation for the music, which was

We were wildly successful. The kids applauded for solos. The kids
applauded for the songs. The kids applauded for each musician when he
was introduced. Not only that but they cheered and screamed at the end
of each song and at the conclusion of our performance they jumped up and
gave us a long standing ovation complete with pumped fists.

The teachers and staff couldn't believe it. They came up afterwards and
were wildly enthusiastic about that hour. The music director (for the
county schools) was there and said "get ready to do this in every school
we have". The local newspaper was there and we'll have pictures and a
page one story this weekend.

Kids came up afterwards and asked questions. Like "Are you on the radio
or TV?" or
"Where can I come see you?" or "Do you like playing jazz as much as you
seem to, or is that part of the performance?" Etc., etc.., etc.

Like Wiggins said. Go out there and speak. Yeah, and while we are at it,
let's speak through our horns, in the local schools, because guess what?
The kids love it if you do it right. For this age, go short on the
"history" and long on the "fun music".

And smack those people who say this music is dying upside the head. The
music is fine. All we need is a little marketing that gets it to venues
where the people are. That starts with schools and extends to all kinds
of gigs most of us seem not to have played in the past 30 years. BE

Steve Barbone

PS. These are paying gigs. Even if the schools have no money, the PTOs
will fund them as they did in this case.

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