Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Black History Month Curriculum Resource: Jazz with Nneena Freelon

As I stated in an earlier post, we are studying the Harlem Renaissance right now, which happens to coincide with Black History Month.  As part of our studies, this past weekend we went to hear Nneenna Freelon, a world-renowned comtemporary jazz singer.

It was a great experience, because while I think all music sounds better performed live, it may be particularly important for jazz performances.  We can talk about jazz and study jazz and even watch videos and listen to CDs about jazz, but that is still not the same as watching someone perform jazz.

And Ms. Freelon is, indeed, wonderful, as might be expected from someone who has been nominated for a Grammy award six separate times.

You can hear some samples of her songs on her website at:

However, one of the issues of teaching our children about jazz is the fact that the songs are unfamiliar to them, and they all just sound like "old music."  But at the conference, I found a great way to deal with that issue.

Nneena Freelon has an album entitled "Tales of Wonder," which is based on Stevie Wonder songs.   It includes jazz takes on such familiar Stevie Wonder songs as "Superstition" and "My Cheri Amour."  While these aren't timely hits, students are much more likely to have heard them than traditional jazz classics (we've been working on his mastery of Classic Rock artists while driving in the car).  But because he does know the original versions of these songs, it gives him a better feeling for jazz interpreations of songs.

So I recommend her songs in general for a modern singer with classic jazz roots.  But I have really found Tales of Wonder to be useful in helping my middle schooler understand jazz.

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