Jazz Arts and Nat King Cole
- Grades: 1–2
Nat King Cole is one of America's musical treasures and much of the music he composed and performed is perfect for younger students to enjoy. Integrating the life and music of Nat King Cole into the curriculum not only initiates a forum to discuss difficult subjects, such as racism and prejudice, it enables students to discover and explore jazz music, a true American art form created by talented and innovative black Americans.
Teaching students about jazz music in general, and then listening to specific Nat King Cole songs, such as; L-O-V-E, Ke Mo Ki Mo (The Magic Song), Frim Fram Sauce and Too Marvelous for Words, creates an exciting introduction to Black History Month. Build on this initial enthusiasm by using A & E Biography Nat King Cole: Loved in Return, to jump start specific lessons in art, reading, writing, music and more. All combined, it creates an arts unit that will be "unforgettable"!
View A & E Biography Nat King Cole: Loved in Return over several days. As students watch and learn about Nat King Cole, his life and his music, they can discuss and use the information presented in the biography to complete the following projects:
- Create a timeline of Nat King Cole's life.
- Write and illustrate a biography about Nat King Cole.
- Write journal entries about how they felt when they learned about some of the happy and difficult times of Nat King Cole's life, especially when he faced discrimination.
- Learn letter writing skills, by writing a letter to Nat King Cole's' daughter, Natalie Cole, to tell her what they have learned about her father.
- Compare and contrast the struggles and conflicts Nat King Cole went through in his career, to an African American artist today.
- Create artistic inspirations to some of Nat King Cole's songs. This can be done by painting or drawing while you are listening to the same song several times in a row. Choosing an up tempo song such as "Orange Colored Sky" and then a slower song such as "Nature Boy" usually allows students to sketch two very different, but intimate pieces of art.
- Students can also illustrate specific pictures that match the words of a particular song.
- Illustrate a book by analyzing and using the lyrics of a Nat King Cole song.
- Use Nat King Cole's song L-O-V-E as inspiration for students to write about what love means to them, to write love letters to a loved one and compile a class book "Love Is..."
- Learn the words to a Nat King Cole song and complete various language arts activities with some of the main words to the song such as categorizing the words by syllables, matching rhymes, alphabetizing and more.
- Write and illustrate a class book "The A-Z of Nat King Cole".
- Invite a jazz pianist to perform in class. Students can also interview the guest and create a biography of the musician's life. (You might be surprised how easy it can be to find a local jazz musician willing to take the time to participate in this activity.)
- Use the previous activity to have students compile a list of interview questions they would have liked to ask Nat King Cole.
- Perform Nat King Cole songs for other classes to enjoy and at school events. (My classes presentation of love at our annual Mother's Day program is always a big hit!)
- Learn how to swing dance. Basic steps can easily be learned by a novice and by 1st graders!
- Create a "jazzy night city scene" with black construction paper building silhouettes glued on gray paper and detailed with street lights, music notes and billboards.
Being able to view the footage and interviews used in A & E Biography Nat King Cole: Loved in Return helped students to make a solid connection to every one of the activities outlined above. Many of these lessons could also be taught using other great jazz musicians such as Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong.
Other resources that can be used include:
PBS Kids Jazz
Penguin Quartet by Peter Arrhenius
Ben's Trumpet by Rachel Isadora
Jazzy Miz Mozetta by Brenda C. Roberts
Satchmo's Blues by Alan Schroeder
Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Vocal Virtuosa by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Ella Fitzgerald: The First Lady of Song by Kana Riley
I See the Rhythm by Toyomi Igus
What a Wonderful World by George David Weiss
Jazz on a Saturday Night by Leo & Diane Dillon
Learn about this popular music form and read a biography of each player pictured and then hear each instrument play on a specially produced CD. What's the featured song "Jazz on a Saturday Night," written and recorded to accompany this book.
Excerpts from the Nat King Cole show included on
Nat King Cole When I Fall In Love: The One and On