Music educator thoughts: As I am writing lesson plans for my song workshops for children I looked for simple resources to explain blues lyrics. I came upon a lesson plan backed by a major jazz educational organization that talks about the AAB lyric form of the blues. It starts out with having the students write out two simple sentences that repeated and then a third response sentence. The lesson said to make sure the last word rhymed. Then after that, embellish the sentences with descriptors. The lesson used a short sentence about seeing an animal as an example.
This right here is the problem with jazz education. This lesson is ridiculous. It teaches the lyrical structure simply and is technically correct. But basically, everything that makes blues lyrics powerful enough to change the entire way people wrote and sang songs isn’t present. And I’m frankly exhausted with having to deal with the lack of understanding of why it’s important to link everything together.
If you teach children about the blues with no FEELING of the actual blues, there is no true connection. We cannot strip our music of its culture and emotion and expect anyone to understand why it’s great. You don’t teach a minuet without understanding it is a dance. To take the sadness, anger, frustration, and pain out of the blues is to neuter the art form. It’s just like feeding a child a waxy, mushy, tasteless red delicious apple and saying that apples are great and you should like this and then don’t see why the child doesn’t understand or like this beautiful apple.
The blues is not a made up childish set of sentences about animals. But it could be about a lost friend or precious toy or how angry they are about how their parent wouldn’t give them something they wanted. Children have the blues too.
And we cannot separate the culture from which the blues came from the music itself. Children as young as 3 can handle that slavery and Jim Crow existed and the people were sad and angry about their situation and from that pain and suffering came a music that helped them to express that pain. They understand that. We don’t need to hide it from them. If we want our children to understand our culture, we have to teach our history and culture WITH the music. We cannot separate the experience of immediate personal and often painful expression from the music. This is the music and lyric’s power and why this sound literally birthed American music as we know it. There is nothing, and I mean nothing, in American music without the advent of the blues.
And I am not going to stand for educators not teaching the WHOLE THING to young people. You cannot teach African based music without African based sensibilities. You cannot teach blues and jazz melody without teaching about the drum and rhythm. You cannot teach jazz and blues harmony without teaching about groove. You cannot teach blues lyrics without a moan, a wail, or an expression of sadness, anger, loss, or frustration. AAB verse forms and rhyme are not more important and kids CAN write about emotional topics AND do proper sentence structure at the same dang time! Stop neutering our cultural history and calling it jazz or music education.