[Dixielandjazz] Playing for kids 5 to 10 years old in Schools.

Steve barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Tue Jan 25 14:48:34 PST 2005

This is a repeat of a post made a while back about playing in elementary
schools. Slightly re-worked to reflect our current program. The main thing
is to make the music and your presentation RELEVANT to the kids. Don't try
and compress the history of jazz into an hour program, and remember, the
three most important keys to success are Relate, Relate, Relate.

Steve Barbone

>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 school.

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. Wow.

After she introduced us, I told them who we were, and before playing, 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. It is YOUR PERSONAL
MUSIC. 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
play some soft and dreamy jazz. All of it will be American Music."

"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
unison. Or have the bass bow it, etc.

"Now, here's is our 'jazz' version. We'll vary the value of the notes."

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

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

Finish after two chorus's and they applaud loudly. Then say.

"Now, jazz sometimes borrows from popular songs like Twinkle Twinkle. Here
is a song that sounds very much like it."

Band plays What a Wonderful World, while clarinet or trombone plays Twinkle
Twinkle over the WWW theme during the matching opening bars. Then a vocal,
then the out chorus with one horn playing Twinkle Twinkle over WWW.

"Do you all see how similar those songs are?" "Yes", they shout. "Soft and
dreamy wasn't it?" "Yes", they shout.

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. E.G. Trombone can growl, and
uses a plunger mute etc. (Will get a big laugh about the plumber's helper
mute). Clarinet slurs, bends notes, etc. Trumpet whinnies, etc.

Then play song featuring that horn. (Tiger Rag for Trombone, etc.)

Hey kids, "Hear the trombone give that Tiger Roar then hear the other horns
answer back 'Lets get outta here'". Have trombone player move slide in
exaggerated fashion at the front row of kids.

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


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)
The kids will start to mimic your horn playing motions too.

That songs have a meaning and we try to communicate that meaning in
vocals and instrumentally. (I Can't Give You Anything But Love").
"Soft and Dreamy wasn't it?" "Yes" they shout.

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

That Jazz conveys emotion. (Tin Roof Blues)

Ask the kids questions like before introducing guitar player; "Does anyone
know which of these instruments supplies the chords? Someone will know it is
guitar. (or banjo or piano). Then I say "The chords are our roadmap. They
keep us from getting lost in the tune."

Also point out that music is mathematics. Like a chord is 1 3 5 7. And while
the guitar plays the entire chord, the horns can play any note of that chord
and it will sound good. "Now it gets more complicated than that, but if you
want to be a musician, you should do your math homework and study it because
it will be used for the rest of your life in music. The language of jazz is
chords, math and rhythm and feeling."


That jazz is American Music. It was invented here and exported world wide.

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 possible.

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.

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 VISIBLE.

Steve Barbone

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