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Jazz is spoken here

George Cole looks at a style of music that can help broaden a child's musical palette

In the UK, jazz artists such as Claire Martin, Clare Teal and Jamie Cullen have raised the profile of jazz in recent years and jazz venues such as Ronnie Scott's in London and the Stables in Milton Keynes (home to jazz stalwarts John Dankworth and Cleo Laine) are as popular as ever. But what about jazz in schools?

The curriculum says children should experience a range of musical styles and genres, and in the key stage 3 scheme of work jazz is given as an example. References to jazz are also in GCSE subject specifications.

The good news is that jazz is thriving in many schools around Britain and teachers are not surprised by its popularity.

Ceri Reece, a peripatetic jazz teacher and a service organiser in Torfaen, Wales, says: "Jazz is a wonderful form of musical expression. With jazz, it's the freedom more than anything."

And Vicki Elliot, a music teacher at St Aidan's CE High School in Harrogate, Yorkshire, adds: "It's not about having to necessarily read notes from a music stand. It's being able to swing, and the musicians have the choice to take up their own space and express themselves through improvisation."

Simon Platford, director of performing arts at Abraham Darby School in Telford, Shropshire, says: "If I went to another school, the first thing I would form would be a jazz band. Jazz has got its disciplines, but it's also got that freedom for kids to express themselves, which they love."

Proof of the popularity of jazz in schools can be found in many quarters.

This year's National Festival of Music for Youth, to be held in Birmingham on July 15 (see opposite), for example, had 120 school jazz band entries in the regional heats, with 13 selected for the event. Jazz bands are also invited on a regular basis to take part in other Music for Youth events.

The Peak District Jazz Orchestra (PDJO) played at the Primary Proms in Symphony Hall Birmingham last March, along with the North Hertfordshire Saxophone Ensemble. NKS Jazz, a Dixieland band from Norton Knatchbull School played at the Primary Proms in London last February. Primary Proms are free concerts for inner-city primary children. More and more students are also taking jazz exams from the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

The Abraham Darby School has two jazz bands, a junior band of about 25 and a senior band (which meets on a Saturday morning) of about 31. The school doesn't put a limit on the number of members, says Simon Platford. "My philosophy is that if you are good enough and enthusiastic, that's fine."

The bands play everything from Glenn Miller to Charles Mingus and give about 60 performances a year. About half the students at St Aidan's play an instrument and one of the school's 11 ensembles is the St Aidan's Swing Band, a 30-piece band composed of students from Years 9 to 13. Students are also encouraged to play jazz in lessons and students in Years 8 and 9 have blues lessons to encourage improvisation. The Swing Band plays everything from swing to jazz-funk. "Jazz is certainly healthy in Harrogate," says Vicki Elliot.

David Hollings, head of music at Chapel-en-le-Frith comprehensive in High Peak, Derbyshire, runs the PDJO, whose members are mainly drawn from local schools.

"Youth jazz is thriving in this area and there are a lot of off-shoot bands," he says. "There are also lots of different types of jazz being played. For example, one local school has a Latin jazz band and there are big bands and small combos." Chapel-en-le-Frith is trying to forge links with some of the surrounding villages, many of which have jazz clubs.

The Caerleon Comprehensive School Big Band was set up about 10 years ago by Ceri Reece. It has 20 to 25 members and there is a waiting list to join:

"We have something like 37 sax players in the school, about 10 trombonists, 15-20 trumpet or coronet players, as well as about 30 drummers." The repertoire ranges from swing to modern jazz-funk. The school also has several smaller ensembles.

For the past three years, pupils from a number of primary schools in Lincolnshire, including Hawthorne Tree School, St Nicholas School and Sibsey Free Primary, have had the opportunity to work with the Egils Straume Trio from Latvia on acoustic jazz improvisation. The day workshop was aimed at Year 4 to 6 and some 45 pupils took part in activities which included improvising over pieces by Miles Davis and saxophonist Michael Brecker. Other initiatives are being planned.

The Guildhall School of Music and Drama gives all its jazz students the opportunity to go into schools to perform or run workshops and has run an outreach programme for more than 20 years. It has strong links with schools in the East End of London, but its students have travelled to other places.

Sean Gregory, head of professional development, says: "We were approached by a school in Surrey and some of our students ran workshops at the school."

The BRIT School in Croydon, a 14-19 school, which specialises in performing arts and technology (page 22), plans to include jazz in its range of musical offerings.

Issie Barrett, a junior fellow at the Trinity College of Music (and adjudicator at the National Festival of Music for Youth), says the state of jazz in British schools is generally good, although there are regional variations. Part of the problem is that some areas have better access to jazz musicians than others. She is keen to get more jazz musicians into schools and teaching. "There are so many jazz musicians around Britain who are desperate to teach, but some schools and LEAs are not recognising the gifts they have," she says. She'd like to see a qualification established for jazz teaching and Trinity College is now considering developing a diploma for it.

George Cole's book on the jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, The Last Miles - the music of Miles Davis 1980-1991 is published by Equinox.


Resources for jazz teachers

Jazz teachers say they found the following useful:

Jamey Aebersold offers a wide range of jazz books www.aebersold.comMerchant2merchant.mvc

Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music has many useful publications for jazz students and teachers.

Hal Leonard has an extensive range of sheet music.

Lush Life music has a good range of big band music

Music for Youth: a music charity that has given almost two million students the opportunity to perform live over the past 24 years.

JW Pepper offers a wide range of sheet music

Ian Steele's American Stage Band Music Service is a popular service used by many jazz teachers. It has a very wide range of jazz music books and related publications

Warner Bros Music Publishing offers big band music and many of its products include a book and CD, so students can hear what the music should sound like.

Jazz Daze is a DVD and online resource developed by Sage Gateshead with the close involvement of jazz musician Courtney Pine. It is supported by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and PRS Foundation. The online resources cover everything from musical styles to recording to jazz history. The Jazz Daze resource pack (available this summer) will include a DVD with animations and video, a CD of soundtracks, plus online support and classroom activities. For more information Tel: 0191 443 4666 Email:


The QCA produces schemes of work which provide lesson ideas for teachers in line with the national curriculum. These are just for guidance so schools do not need to follow them. However, schools can customise the schemes of work to suit particular classes or situations. The schemes of work can be found at: KS3 (Jazz is unit 8)

KS12 GCSE specifications for music can be found on awarding body websites at

The Royal Academy of Music runs a Jazz for Your Students course on Saturday mornings. It's aimed at young students who are interested in going on to study jazz at undergraduate level. Auditions for the junior jazz course starting in September are held at the end of the summer term.

Junior Jazz is also launching an outreach programme for young jazz musicians around the UK who are interested in studying jazz, which starts from September.

Tel: 0207 873 7338 Email:

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