Reflecting on Jazz with New Resources from the Library of Congress

The following is a blog post from first author Kaleena Black and co-author Claudia Morales. It was published on NAFME “Music Educators Journal”– September 2021 issue

Kaleena Black is an Educational Resources Specialist at the Library of Congress.  She can be reached at [email protected]. Claudia Morales is a Concert Producer at the Library of Congress.  She can be reached at [email protected].

Image from “Terri Lyne Carrington: The New Standards” concert, April 24, 2021.
Tina Fuller, flute, Terry Lyne Carrington, drums.

The Library of Congress recently made available online two series of musical recordings and learning resources developed with contemporary jazz composers, Terri Lyne Carrington and Kandace Springs, respectively. In these resources, Carrington, a percussionist, teacher, composer, and social justice advocate, who is also the current Library of Congress Jazz Scholar, and Springs, a Nashville-based composer, pianist, and vocalist, share thought-provoking perspectives and techniques that may be of interest to the music students you work with. These materials, which include concerts, interviews, and educational videos, may also prompt some fruitful, wide-ranging discussions, on topics from the history of jazz and the musical canon, to intersections between social justice and music, and, even, approaches to developing one’s own artistic voice.

You might first invite your students to watch some or all of each artist’s featured concert, in which they are accompanied by fellow women musicians

Image from the “Kandace Springs Trio” concert, May 22, 2021.

(all listed in the concert programs), and showcase their respective projects—for Carrington, “New Standards: 100 Lead Sheets by Women Composers” (//www.loc.gov/concerts/terri-lyne-carrington.html) and for Springs, “The Women Who Raised Me” (//www.loc.gov/concerts/kandace-springs.html). In their own ways, the two projects represent nods to female jazz musicians from across the decades, who have influenced both Carrington and Springs, and who have also had broader impact in the music field. Carrington cites, for example, musicians Geri Allen and Mary Lou Williams, whose selections are included in the repertoire of her concert, and who are also represented in the Library of Congress’ online collections. Similarly, when speaking of those who influenced her, Springs names vocalists such as Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, both of whom are featured in the Library’s collections, and whose names your students might recognize.

In their concerts, the artists both perform selections touted as “standards” or part of the “jazz canon,” two concepts that you may choose to review or introduce to your students. You might first ask them to define the terms in their own words. Then perhaps, in small groups, you might ask them to name songs, artists, or time periods that they associate with the terms. Finally, consider sharing Terri Lyne Carrington’s own definition of “jazz standards,” which she included in her interview with the Library of Congress (www.loc.gov/item/webcast-9770): “an accepted repertoire that jazz musicians have used for a long time as…a common ground to come together and play” (start at 01:20). You might also invite students to reflect on her statement that standards are “an open canvas” (02:44).

Image from “Terri Lyne Carrington: The New Standards” concert, April 24, 2021. Terri Lyne Carrington, drums, Devon Gates, bass

Next, continue a discussion about the “jazz canon,” by asking students which artists or composers they associate with that phrase. Carrington names a few well-known male composers as examples: Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, John Coltrane, and others, but also shares, “What we noticed is, women were left out of the canon” (02:24). Consider asking your students what they think of this statement, as well as her note in her concert program pamphlet (www.loc.gov/concerts/pdf/2021-apr21-carrington-program.pdf), which indicates that her project “acknowledges women composers, past and present, who have not necessarily been included in the canon of ‘jazz standards.’” (For more on the subject of “standards,” explore this essay on jazz featured in the collection “The Library of Congress Celebrates the Songs of America”: www.loc.gov/collections/songs-of-america/articles-and-essays/musical-styles/popular-songs-of-the-day/jazz.)

As students watch these recordings and participate in conversations about the canon and, broadly, the history of jazz, the topics of social justice and equality may emerge. As part of their learning, invite students to explore related online resources from the Library of Congress, including the blog post “The Painful Birth of Blues and Jazz” (blogs.loc.gov/folklife/2017/02/birth-of-blues-and-jazz) or the research guides “Jazz Research at the Library of Congress” (guides.loc.gov/jazz-research) and “Early Jazz Music (Backlash and Opposition): Topics in Chronicling America” (guides.loc.gov/chronicling-america-early-jazz).

Image from the “Kandace Springs Trio” concert, May 22, 2021. Caylen Bryant, bass and vocals, Taylor Moore, drums and vocals.

As they reflect on the past, students may also consider the possibilities ahead. Terri Lyne Carrington, for example, discusses her own work in gender justice in the context of her “Jazz Without Patriarchy” project (start around 21:59), which involves “pointing to a different future that’s more equitable and more just. And trying to…do our part in helping people imagine a different future” (22:33). Encourage your students to envision this future – what do they imagine?

As your students continue to imagine their own futures, and develop as creators, performers, researchers, and listeners, they might find further inspiration from the educational videos that these artists developed with the Library’s Music Division. The short learning modules include insights from Kandace Springs on “Elements of Jazz Vocals” and Terri Lyne Carrington’s approaches and techniques for drumming. They both describe coming into one’s own as an artist. In her interview (www.loc.gov/item/webcast-9801), for instance, Springs describes herself “collecting bits and pieces of these brilliant artists” (01:38), to create a product that is a blend of musical influences (“sounds, tones, and inflections” (1:24)) with her own style. As a specific example, she illustrates the mashup she performs in her concert, which overlays the song “I Put a Spell on You” with Beethoven’s classical piece “Moonlight Sonata” (03:24). She and her band expand on the concept of fusion and inter-genre experimentation in the educational video “Musical Styles” (www.loc.gov/item/webcast-9802), which might be of interest to your students.

The materials and perspectives that both of these artists, Kandace Springs and Terri Lyne Carrington, present may offer ideas and guidance to your music students, as they continue to study jazz. If you are looking for more Library of Congress resources in addition to those shared above, you might explore these blog posts:

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