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Investigating Democracy Through Jazz

Investigating Democracy Through Jazz

A new curriculum from Teachers College

NEW YORK (NY) – Teachers College’s Department of Arts and Humanities announced the launch of a new website for teachers that explores the relationships between jazz and democracy. “Let Freedom Swing: Conversations on Jazz and Democracy,” is a collection of videos and a study guide designed for use in social studies, history and humanities classes. The innovative presentation combines the traditional study of American democracy with a focus on the democratic character of jazz.  It may be downloaded for free on the Let Freedom Swing website.

The program is based on interviews with retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and with musician and educator Wynton Marsalis. The two originally came together for a program at The Kennedy Center to mark President Obama’s inauguration. The resulting conversations probe the strong relationships between jazz and democracy, with help from dozens of current musicians. The interviews are presented in three brief but thought-provoking films.

The Rockefeller Foundation sponsored the concert, Jazz at Lincoln Center produced it and The Documentary Group created short films based on the concert. These institutions invited Teachers College to create a study guide to accompany the short films. “We The People” explores the initial connections between democracy and jazz, with a focus on the power of individuals. “E Pluribus Unum” looks at how people balance the interests of individuals and the group, whether in music or politics. “A More Perfect Union” describes how the union of sounds that is jazz music relates to the ongoing effort to improve the United States through the political process.

Teachers College created study guides for each film. The guides were developed for grades 6-12 (although they could be adapted for younger students), and are relevant to classes interested in exploring politics, history, music, or the American character. The classroom resources include links to the films, a full study guide, list of key concepts, and overviews of the interviewees. Also included is a large list of links to relevant readings, websites, and videos. All of these resources conform with the suggested standards of the National Council for the Social Studies and the National Association of Music Education.

Each video is about six minutes in length. The study guide contains questions for discussion, teaching activities, and additional resources. The website contains the three videos, the study guide, information about the project, and additional print, digital, and video resources.

“We are excited about this unique educational project,” said Ellen Livingston, instructor in social studies and author of the study guide. “We hope educators will find these materials useful in stimulating student interest in two of America’s greatest creative contributions—jazz and democracy.”

To interview Margaret Crocco or Ellen Livingston, contact Patricia Lamiell,, 212-678-3979.

Published Monday, Jan. 31, 2011


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