A lot has been said about blues and jazz becoming an endangered genre since its relevance tends to be tied to an older audience – whatever that means – but the reality is that children tend to be much more fluid about such things and if presented with the music will make up their own minds without judgment calls. As well as playing the music at home – from the time they are very young – you can also help to introduce and nourish a love of blues and jazz (whilst upping the cool factor) with the aid of picture books and non-fiction.
You might be surprised to know how many books have been written with this very goal in mind from the earliest ‘board’ books for infants to a more advanced guide written by the wonderful Wynton Marsalis with the pre-teen and younger crowd in mind.
Jazz Baby by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Laura Freeman is an ideal ‘first jazz book’ since there is rhythm built right into the prose and soft, happy pictures of children dancing, playing and ultimately snoozing to various jazz sounds. A good intro to instruments and the sounds they make as well, this book features lots of important repetition for toddlers and is fun for the adults to read at the same time!
Jonathan London has written a wonderful book called Hip Cat illustrated by Woodleigh Hubbard which features bright, primary colour drawings and suitable flowery jazz speak to tell the story of a sax-playing feline named ‘Oobie-do’ who makes his fortune in the city. Things don’t come easy for this particular hip cat though and the story chronicles – in an effective be-bop rhythm that comes through especially well if you are reading aloud – all the trials and tribulations that he must suffer through in order to earn his chops as ‘one cool daddy-o.’ There is a lot of amusing jazz vocabulary here to explore and the text is written at angles and vertically in order to best reflect the rhythm of the music it describes. This is also a very fun read-out-loud book and would be appreciated for different reasons by children of varying ages. (Not a bad gift for the musician in your life either …)
Although this is not a new title, Wynton Marsalis’ Marsalis on Music remains a superb book to instill or encourage a love of music and has been particularly geared toward young people. Based on the PBS series of the same name, the book comes with its own audio cd and is full of information – some historical, some just plain practical – all delivered in an easy-to-read, often humourous style that is all his own. The highly talented and likeable Marsalis has plenty of personal charm and passion and it translates through this book. There is even a list of practical suggestions for those who loathe doing music practice …
Heaven’s All Star Jazz Band by Don Carter would be a fabulous book for any young person and is illustrated with three dimensional foam board drawings that really work for this subject matter. There are pictures of instruments throughout (the end papers are especially good) and I also love Grandpa Jack ‘getting down’ on the clouds. The premise of the book is that Grandpa Jack – a big jazz fan – has passed away and his grandson is now trying to conjure up a suitable version of heaven for someone who loved music so much. The end result is that heaven is populated by an All-Star Jazz Band featuring and introducing names like Lady Day, Count Basie and Satchmo to name but a few. (And of course, there is a list at the back to provide mini-bios on all of these names which in turn supplies a jumping off point for listening and further discussion, see where I'm going with this ...?)
Sharing music and reading are two supremely important things to do with your children and why not combine the two? If you are not able to buy these books, check with your local library. Bring home some titles and put on some vinyl – because you’re never too young to find out about the blues!