April was designated Jazz Appreciation Month in 2001 by John Edward Hasse, curator of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. By 2002, it became an official annual event which celebrates jazz’s heritage and history as well as the current jazz scene that lives on to this day. This year’s theme celebrates women in jazz and this year’s featured musician is Ella Fitzgerald, in honor of her centennial birthday.
I currently work at a local library and suggested we put up a few Jazz Appreciation Month displays for the month of April. As such, I was in charge of creating the displays.
The main display in the middle of the library near the reference section featured this year’s poster, which highlights the left side of LeRoy Neiman’s Big Band painting, and short biographies of important women in jazz hanging up alongside the poster. The women I featured include Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Mary Lou Williams, the all-women International Sweethearts of Rhythm swing band, and current musicians Esperanza Spalding and Cécile McLorin Salvant.
The books featured on the display from our collection were…
- A New History of Jazz by Alyn Shipton
- So What: The Life of Miles Davis by John Szwed
- Early Blues: The First Stars of Blues Guitar by Jas Obrecht
- Unforgettable: The Life and Mystique of Nat King Cole by Leslie Gourse
- Moving to Higher Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your Life by Geoffrey Ward & Wynton Marsalis
- Satchmo: The Genius of Louis Armstrong by Gary Giddins
- Louis Armstrong: The Offstage Story of Satchmo by Michael Cogswell (not pictured, it was returned to the library a little while after the display was put up)
- Sweethearts of Rhythm: The Story Of The Greatest All-Girl Swing Band In The World by Marilyn Nelson & illustrated by Jerry Pinkney (This one is a picture book filled with poetry about the Sweethearts, written for older children. I intend to check this out from the library once the display comes down!)
- Becoming Billie Holiday by Carole Boston Weatherford (Another book written for older children that features stunning illustrations and beautiful poetry about Billie Holiday’s childhood and rise to success. I checked this one out just before Jazz Appreciation Month began and I absolutely loved it. It talks about some pretty heavy stuff though, so I think it’s geared more towards pre-teens and teens.)
- Nina Simone (Women in the Arts series) by Kerry Acker & Betty McCollum
CDs and DVDs featured from our collection…
- Nina Simone: Live at Montreux 1976
- Lena Horne’s Love Songs
- Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue
- Artie Shaw: The Last Recordings, Rare and Unreleased
- The Complete Rags of Scott Joplin
The display in the children’s section was a bit smaller but featured the best children’s books about jazz that we had in our collection, and included worksheets and coloring pages for kids to take. The worksheets and coloring pages were actually incredibly popular among kids and their parents. I was constantly having to replenish them, which made me happy because that meant kids were learning about jazz!
The books featured on display in the children’s section were…
- Jazz Cats by David Davis
- Jazz by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by Christopher Myers
- God Bless the Child, a picture book using the lyrics of “God Bless the Child” by Billie Holiday with illustrations by Jerry Pinkney. This book was especially popular – two people checked it out during the month.
- Cool Daddy Rat by Kristyn Crow
- Charlie Parker Played Be Bop by Chris Raschka
These are the worksheets/coloring pages for kids to take home:
- History of Jazz Music worksheet
- Saxophone coloring page
- Louis Armstrong coloring pages
- Billie Holiday coloring page
- Duke Ellington coloring page, which you can find in HERE
In addition to the two displays, we held a jazz-themed storytime event for preschool-age children. As I always do when I lead storytime, I brought Bunnie, my treasured stuffed animal (the kids love her!) We read Jazz Cats and Jazz on a Saturday Night by Diane and Leo Dillon, which I grabbed from another library nearby. Jazz Cats seemed to be more of a hit with the preschoolers, as the use of animal characters playing jazz and the rhyming text was probably more fitting for their age. Jazz on a Saturday Night was shorter (which I thought would better fit preschoolers’ shorter attention spans) and it also featured rhyming text, but it used language that was at times a bit too advanced for preschool-age children so the kids got a little restless during this story.
After finishing the stories, we made trumpets using toilet paper rolls, 2 pieces of funnel-shaped construction paper, glue, and buttons. You can find instructions for the craft HERE and HERE. For those who would like to try this craft, I would suggest folding the pieces of paper in half because it will end up looking more like an actual trumpet.
The kids loved the craft and they especially loved playing with their new paper trumpets! Hopefully, it’ll inspire them to become interested in music, regardless of genre.
Overall, I think our Jazz Appreciation Month displays and our storytime event were a success. We had quite a few patrons comment on how much they liked the display and our kids’ display was especially popular. For any fellow librarians who are reading this, please do let me know in the comments section what your library did to celebrate JAM and how it went.
This was my first time coordinating a celebration of Jazz Appreciation Month on a public scale and it was incredibly rewarding. However small my part in celebrating JAM may have been, I am glad that I had the chance to bring jazz into the public eye a bit. I hope to one day coordinate more jazz celebrations in other libraries, museums, schools, or public spaces in the future.
Farewell, Jazz Appreciation Month – and happy International Jazz Day!