First Grade - Music - Lesson 12 - Origins of Jazz, Part 2


Listen to a typical blues piece by a woman performer.

Listen to music of Duke Ellington.

Introduce the concept of musical improvisation.


Classroom size map of the U.S.

Recording of one or more typical blues pieces, see suggestions below

Recording of one or more pieces of Duke Ellington, see suggestions below

Suggested Books

Monceaux, Morgan. Jazz, My Music, My People. New York: Knopf, 1994.

Repeated from the list for the previous lesson (see Lesson 11), since it is the only one easily available with illustrations and good information about Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, and other women performers.


Montgomery, Elizabeth Rider. Duke Ellington: King of Jazz. Champaign, IL: Garrard, 1972.

Black and white illustrations by Paul Frame are vague, but the biographical information--especially about circumstances surrounding composition of certain pieces--is good and well told. Too difficult for reading aloud but good resource for retelling by teacher. Photographs of the Duke at different periods of his life and of other historically important figures such as Bessie Smith, Cab Calloway, and James P. Johnson.

Venezia, Mike. Duke Ellington. Chicago: Childrens Press, 1995.

Part of the series "Getting to Know the World's Greatest composers," done with Venezia's usual attention to the visual as well as the biographical. There are good black and white photographs of the Duke plus some reproductions of paintings of the jazz world that give a good feelings for the periods of the life of this great popularizer of jazz. Good for reading aloud and especially in conjunction with listening to Ellington's music.

Woodyard, Shawn. Music and Song. Vero Beach, FL: Rourke Press, 1995.

Part of African American Life series, this is divided into short sections such as Blues, Jazz, Soul, Minstrel Music, Ragtime, and Classical Music and Opera. It has Glossary and a list of additional books that might be good supplements. It is not as concerned with the origins and early history of jazz as our lessons are and is not for reading aloud.

Background for the Teacher

This lesson continues the study of early jazz composers and performers begun in Lesson 11. The locale shifts from its origins in New Orleans to big cities such as St. Louis, Kansas City, Chicago, and New York. A great deal in this lesson depends on what recordings you choose and are able to obtain, so questions and directions will be more general than they usually are. The children should hear some examples of early blues, with piano accompaniment and then with instrumental accompaniment. It is important for the children to know that--from the beginning


First Grade - Music - Lesson 13 - Origins of Jazz, Part 2

women performers were important to the jazz tradition, especially to the blues, so try to find examples of blues sung either by Ma Rainey (1886-1939) or Bessie Smith (1894-1937). Other preferences would be Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Sippie Wallace, or Willie Mae (Big Mama) Thornton.

The other person whose music the children should hear is Duke Ellington (189901974), as an esample of the sophistication and complex instrumentation that developed with the Duke's compositions and his bands. Most libraries will have a good selection of Ellington recordings. When I cheecked the local record store, there were twenty-one different Ellington CDs available. Use any of the books listed above for biographical information about Ellington.

It is important that the children hear the huge difference between the wonderfully "raw" sound of early blues, coupled with its language of the most everyday happenings, and the very smooth sounds of Ellington's bank playing pieces like his "Solitude," "Mood Indigo," "Sophisticated Lady," or "Take the 'A' Train."

The pieces you choose should also illustrate for the children how, in the early days of jazz, instruments were played to sound like voices, and voices growled to sound like instruments so that there was the constant interplay between the voice and the horn, for example. You might want to bring back a selection of Louis Armstrong's music for that and certainly a piece with good scat singing will illustrate is as well.

The final point that should be illustrated by your choice of songs would be the development of solo riffs in the band selections, so that, over time, these solos became the main vehicles for improvisation in jazz, recalling bits of other tunes, making up new melodies or just taking a flight of fancy. The children should know that this kind of solo improvisation grew out of years of great instrumentalists playing together, or jamming, as musicians like to call it.


Review with the children by asking who Scott Joplin was, what instrument he wrote his music for, and what about the rhythm made them call this kind of music ragtime. Next ask what instrument Louis Armstrong played, what they remember about the way he sang and the way he played the trumpet. Remind them about the use of syncopation in jazz; have someone explain what syncopated rhythm is and/or demonstrate it by clapping or singing a tune. (If the children are not firm about syncopation, go back to the exercise in Lesson 11, or a similar one you prefer, and repeat it with them.)

Ask: Who remembers the name of the city where jazz first stated? (New Orleans) Show the children New Orleans on a U.S. map. Say: After jazz got started in New Orleans, it spread to other big cities, such as St. Louis and Kansas City. Show those places on the map and ask: What do you notice that joins those cities to New Orleans? (rivers, The Mississippi, etc.) Tell them that many early jazz players performed on boats that took people on trips on the Mississippi. Say: Eventually, there were also great jazz bands in the city of Chicago (show on the map) and in New York (show on the map). When the musicians traveled back and forth between those two cities, they went by train, because those cities are not connected by rivers.

Tell the children that there were always many women who sang jazz, right from the beinning days in New Orleans. Say: One of the most famous of the early women jazz singers was Gertrude rainey. She is known as "Mother of the Blues," so her name became Ma Rainey. If


First Grade - Music - Lesson 13 - Origins of Jazz, Part 2

you have a copy of the Monceaux book on jazz, show the children the illustration of Ma Rainey and say: Even though she died almost sixty years ago, we still call her Ma Rainey. Ask: Does anyone know what blues music is? (Accept any answers that indicate having heard some blues.) Say: The blues are solo songs, which means just one person singing, sometimes with a piano or a guitar accompanying them, and they usually tell about something that's really bothering the person. If you were going to make up a blues song, it might be called "Hate to Get Up Blues," or "Sure Miss My Mom Blues," or "Lost My Best Friend Blues."

At this point, play a blues selection by a woman from the 20s or 30s for the children. If it's possible to play something of Bessie Smith, that would be the best choice. Anything of hers is fine; for example, "Lock and Key" with James P. Johnson on the piano, so the children can hear a good example of Harlem "stride" piano from its originator, "Empty Bed Blues" with a growly trombone tossing the tune back and forth with Bessie, in addition to a piano. Tell the children that Bessie Smith is called "The Empress of the Blues." Ask: If Ma Rainey was the Mother o the Blues, what do you think it means to call Bessie Smith "The Empress of the Blues"? (Talk about titles of honor for women like queen, empress, etc.) Ask: What kind of a voice do you think she has? If you can play something with the voice and horn imitating one another a lot, ask the children if they hear what' happening, and play it for them again.

Ask: What do you think about the rhythm in these blues songs? Does it sound steady and regular like an even drum beat or pretty free? (pretty free) If youcan understand the words, do you think they're happy or sad? (usually some of both) Do you think it sounds as though she's been practicing this piece for a long time or it's all just tumbling out? (the latter)

Next, tell the children a little about Duke Ellington. Any of the books suggested above have good biographical information about him. Be sure and show the children some photographs of Ellington and make sure they know that Ellington played the piano from the time he was little, but that he also wrote his jazz music for a whole band with a lot of different instruments, and he wrote many, many tunes. Play a few selections for the children (see suggested records below) and then ask:

Are these songs for just a singer? (no)

Can you tell what some of the instruments are? (probably piano, drums, trombone, trumpet, saxaphone, and string bass at least) If you have pictures of the brass instruments in books, show them to the children.

Can you hear how each instrument takes a special solo and plays a little game with the tune, changing it around just for fun? There's a very long word musicians use for that kind of playing and it's called improvisation. Have the children pronounce the word (im pro vi ZAY shun).

At this point, if you could demonstrate improvisation for the children, it would help them to understand it. Tell them it simply means taking part of a tune that you know very well and just playing with it, maybe changing the rhythm, maybe changing the way the melody moves around. You could choose any simple melody the children have already learned to sing, such as "Frere Jacques" ("Are You Sleeping?") and just sing it as an improvisation.

When you are finished, ask whether any of the children want to try doing some improvisation on the same tune, a different way, with or without words. Encourage them to try and let everyone give some applause when they finish.


First Grade - Music - Lesson - Origins of Jazz, Part 2

Suggested Recordings

For Women Singing the Blues

2 CD set, Essential Women, House of Blues #61257

Some classics, including Sister Rosetta Tharpe singing "Trouble in Mind"

Bessie Smith singing "Do Your Duty," Ma Rainey doing "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom,"

Sippie Wallace singing "Black Snake Blues," And Willie Mae Thornton's "Hound Dog."

Bessie Smith, Great Original Performances 1925-1933, LP REB 602

Includes jazz greats such as James P. Johnson and Fletcher Henderson on piano, Jack Teagarden on trombone, Billy Taylor on bass, Coleman Hawkins on clarinet and many other outstanding performers.

Any recordings produced by Rosetta Records, for example Mean Mothers (RR 1300) Women's Railroad Blues (RR 1301) which are all archival and available at some public libraries.

For Duke Ellington

Complete Concert of 14 January, 1964, Fourstar #40063 for $6.98 includes classics such as:

"Take the 'A' Train" by Duke's partner Billy Strayhorn

"I Got It Bad And That Ain't Good"

"Black and Tan Fantasy"

Another inexpensive and excellent CD for Ellington is:

Ellington Greatest Hits, RCA Victor #68488 for $9.98 includes classics recorded by Ellington's band between October 1928 and September 1967 and all written by Ellington such as:

"Mood Indigo"

"Sophisticated Lady"



"It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)"



First Grade - Music - Lesson 13 - Songs


Learn to sing two American folk songs.

Look at musical notation of songs.


Classroom size map of the U.S.

Words and music to The Fox, see below

Words and music to So Long, It's Been Good To Know You, see below

Suggested Book

Krull, Kathleen, ed. Gonna sing My Head Off! New York: Knopf, 1992.

Especially good collection of American folk songs with evocative illustrations by Allen Garns. Both songs for this lesson are contained in the collection, piano and guitar accompaniments are simple, and bits of historical information about each song are interesting.


Tell the children that this is an American folk song from a part of the United States called New England. Remind them that the Puritans and the Pilgrim (American Civilization Lesson 13) lived in New England, which is in the northeast part of the United States. As review, have someone locate on a map where the Pilgrims and Puritans lived, and then show them the states that make up New England.

Say: In New England, there were lots of farms and lots of foxes. The trouble is that foxes love to eat chickens, ducks, and geese and love to go into duck pens and henhouses and steal animals and their eggs. This song tells about the adventures of a fox family and a farmer named John. It's a song that tells a whole story from beginning to end.

If you can play a simple guitar accompaniment, this is a good song for it, and there are really just three chords used throughout the song, so it's even possible that a child in the class could play the accompaniment. (The guitar chords are given in the music transcription below.)

The singing needs to be very rhythmic so that the words can be projected. Sing the whole song through once for the children, pointing to the notes on the overhead projection while acting out with exaggerated voice the direct quotes. Say: This time, as I sing it I want you to come in as soon as you hear a repeated word (town-o, town-o,) and sing to the end of that verse with me.

If you need to stop at first each time you want them to join in, in order to teach them the words, be sure you sing it through at least once without any stopping.

The Fox


The fox went out on a chilly night,

Prayed for the moon to give him light,

He'd many a mile to go that night

Before he reached the town-o, town-o, town-o.

He'd many a mile to go that night

Before he reached the town-o.


First Grade - Music - Lesson 13 - Songs


He ran till he came to a great big bin;

The ducks and the geese were kept therein.

"A couple of you are gonna grease my chin

Before I leave this town-o, town-o, town-o.

A couple of you are gonna grease my chin

Before I leave this town-o.


He grabbed the gray goose by the neck

And threw a duck across his back.

He didn't mind their "Quack, quack, quack"

And their legs all dangling down-o, down-o, town-o.

He didn't mind their "Quack, quack, quack"

And their legs all dangling down-o.


Old Mother Patter-Patter jumped out of bed;

Out of the window she cocked her head,

Said, "Get up, John! The gray goose is gone,

And the fox is in the town-o, town-o, town-o."

Said, "Get up, John! The gray goose is gone,

And the fox is in the town-o."


John, he went to the top of the hill

And he blew on his horn both loud and shrill.

The fox, he said, "I'd better leave with my kill;

He'll soon be on my trail-o, trail-o, trail-o."

The fox, he said, "I'd better leave with my kill;

He'll soon be on my trail-o."


He ran till he came to his cozy den,

And there were the little ones, eight, nine, ten.

They said, "Daddy, you'd better go back again,

'Cause it must be a mighty fine town-o, town-o, town-o."

They said, "Daddy, you'd better go back again,

'Cause it must be a mighty fine town-o."


Then the fox and his wife, without any strife,

They cut up the goose with a fork and a knife.

They never had such a supper in their life,

And the little ones chewed on the bones-o, bones-o, bones-o.

They never had such a supper in their life,

And the little ones chewed on the bones-o.


First Grade - Music - Lesson 13 - Songs

So Long, It's Been Good to Know You or, Dusty Old Dust

Woody Guthrie wrote the words to this song in 1935, adapting the melody from "The Ballad of Billy the Kid." Like so many of Guthrie's folk songs, the song recounts with a kind of wistful humor an experience he shared with many people, in this case the horrible dust storms that hit Oklahoma and forced thousands to leave their homes and move elsewhere.

Tell the children a little bit about the circumstances behind the words, and then teach them the chorus, whose words are simple and repetitive. If you can put the music on the overhead, point out the time signature and let them tell you the numbers (3 over 4). Say: The time signature tells us about the meter and rhythm of the piece. The top number always tells us how many beats are in each measure (point out the bar lines that indicate separations between the measures) and the bottoms number tells what kind of a note gets one beat.

Ask: How many beats are in each measure in this song? (3) And what kind of note gets one beat? (Tell them that in music, a 4 on the bottom of the time signature indicates a quarter note, so a quarter note gets one beat.) You could then have them clap out the 1, 2, 3 rhythm of each measure in the chorus as you point to the notes. They will begin to get a sense of what a quarter note looks like.

When they have learned the chorus, have them stand in two circles around you as you sing the verses. When it comes time for the choruses, have the two groups circle in opposite directions, step in time to the 1, 2, 3 rhythm as they alternate giving first right hand, then left hand, then right hand to the person passing opposite (as you do in a figure of a square dance), changing hands only on each first beat as they sing the chorus and then dropping hands and listening to the verses as you sing them.

You may want to talk a bit about some of the vocabulary, such as sparking and salvation from sin, and help the children to understand that these words are part of what shows us that Woody Guthrie had a good sense of humor about the troubles he and other people lived through.

I've sung this song, but I'll sing it again,

of the place that I lived on the wild windy plains.

In the month called April, the county called Gray,

And here's what all of the people there say:

Well it's


So long, it's been good to know you.

So long, it's been good to know you.

So long, it's been god to know you,

This dusty old dust is a-getting my home,

And I've got to be drifting along.


Well, the dust storm, it hit, and it hit like thunder.

It dusted us over, it dusted us under.

It blocked out the traffic, it blocked out the sun,

And straight for home all the people did run, saying, CHORUS


First Grade - Music - Lesson 13 - Songs


Well, the sweethearts, they sat in the dark and they sparked,

They hugged and kissed in that dusty old dark.

They sighed and cried, hugged and kissed,

But instead of marriage they were talking like this: Honey CHORUS


The telephone rang and it jumped off the wall,

And that was the preacher a-making his call.

He said, "Kind friend, this might be the end.

You got your last chance at salvation from sin." CHORUS


The churches were jammed, the churches were packed,

And that dusty old dust storm it blowed so black,

That the preacher could not read a word of his text,

And he folded his specs and he took up collection, said CHORUS