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Happy Black History Month! Let’s talk picture books for Jazz! Last year, I shared a ton of different books for Black History Month, and this year I wanted to focus on Jazz. All of these books are intended for the elementary music classroom, although some are better for lower grades and some for upper grades.
These books are perfect for the elementary music classroom, but they can also be used in a general music classroom or at home with your own kids!
You can click on any of the pictures to purchase or view the books on Amazon.
If you want more jazz lessons, then check out the JAZZ MUSICIAN BRACKET FREEBIE. This is a March Madness style bracket that helps students learn about different jazz musicians.
It’s been really popular with my older students, and it’s been a lot of fun.
Jazz on a Saturday Night
I started with this book because it’s actually my favorite one to start with in the classroom. I like to read it to my third graders (you could also go with second graders). It’s an account of a fictional performance with many different jazz giants like Louis, Ella, etc.
I like to read through this book first, then talk about the different instruments they mention. Then we learn about the different instruments in jazz, and listen to each one, relating them to the book.
I also use these printable activity sheets that go along with the book. That makes it an easy one to leave for a sub!
How Jelly Roll Morton Invented Jazz
This book is great for upper grades, and really fun. Jelly Roll Morton was one of (or maybe the) the first jazz players in history. He played piano, and this book talks through how he may have invented jazz.
With this one, you could do an interesting debate or paper having students discuss– did Jelly Roll Morton invent jazz? Why or why not?
Ella Queen of Jazz or Skit Scat Raggety Cat
When it comes to jazz, we have to talk about Ella. Seriously. She’s the Queen.
We do many lessons about Ella (check out this one about the song Bluebird!), so we love to read about her too.
With the littles, Ella Queen of Jazz is a good one. With the upper grades, I like Skit Scat Raggety Cat– although it is a little bit longer. Sometimes we read it over a few days.
Miles the Crocodile Plays the Colors of Jazz
This book is so much fun for kinder or first grade. It talks about all of the colors that jazz can be– and has listening examples for each one.
I love to read the book and have students listen to each selection. Then they get up and “match” the pieces by moving their bodies along with the music as I flip through each one. Then I play a new song and ask them what color it would be. They pick the color and get one crayon to draw a picture of the song.
This is also an easy one to leave for a sub!
Trombone Shorty is a fun musician to talk about, because he’s much more current. Most of the big jazz artists we talk about are from the 40s or the 60s, but Troy Andrews was born in 1986 and is still touring.
Little Melba and her Big Trombone
While we’re on the topic of trombones, let’s talk about Melba Doretta Liston. She played the trombone, and is best known as a composer and arranger.
I love this book because I try to showcase non-stereotypical instrument players– trombones tend to be dominated by men, but they don’t have to be.
Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra
Duke Ellington wrote many ridiculously famous jazz pieces that we use in my classroom– Take the A Train and It Don’t Mean a Thing are two of our favorites– so incorporating him is usually easy.
This book is a bit wordy, but great for upper grades. I especially like to highlight that he was a composer, and we talk about different careers in music other than just performing.
Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite
Once your kiddos know about Duke, then you can learn about his Nutcracker suite! This can lead to some fun conversations comparing and contrasting the Tchaikovsky to the Ellington versions. Plus, it gives you an excuse to use the Nutcracker when it’s not Christmas (or talk about jazz during Christmas).
Just a Lucky So and So
The next few are all about Louis Armstrong. This book is a good (simple) introduction to Louis and his life. I heard it for the first time while helping in a first grade class– it was one of their books, and we were talking about jazz later that day (happy coincidence).
When Louis Armstrong Taught Me Scat
When it comes to Louis, we have to talk about improvisation. This book is super cute, and all about learning to scat. It’s a great way to learn about different scatting words. You can pull the words out of the book and have students scat along with a jazz song, or even just a backing track.
Click here to purchase. (Not currently available but I’ll link anyway for when it comes back in stock)
What a Wonderful World
Annnd, of course, What a Wonderful World. Do I need to say much about this one?
I actually have a whole blog post and video with different ways to teach What a Wonderful World, so I’ll link it here and you can read it.
There are two main picture books illustrating this one– here is the one that I have:
Here is another popular one:
I use this with the song, and I use my lesson pack on TPT to teach it. We put the song in order, listen to the different instruments, learn about Louis, and talk about what would make a wonderful world.
This Jazz Man
A jazzy rendition of the song This Old Man, this book is super cute and super fun. Best for younger grades. Plus, the Jazz men are actual men– each one is based off of an actual person like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, etc.
Squeak! Rumble! Whomp! Whomp! Whomp!
Also a great picture book for jazz for younger grades, this book includes a lot on onomatopoeias. I like to see if we can match different sounds to words (so what would make a sound like Whomp!). You can also use this one for found sound compositions– have students use found sounds (old keys, pieces of paper, etc) and create a composition. Then they can write the sounds down just like the title of the book.
The Little Piano Girl: The Story of Mary Lou Williams, Jazz Legend
Mary Lou Williams was an incredible jazz pianist and composer. Students can learn all about her in this book.
Before John Was a Jazz Giant
Two more to go and the next is Before John was a Jazz Giant. This book is fun because it shows students all about who he was BEFORE he became famous. It talks all about John Coletrane as a child, and it talks about all of the things that he heard. This can lead into a discussion of listening to your surroundings. You could take the kids on a “sound walk” and see what sounds you can hear. Then have them create a class composition with these– you could even add instruments and talk about how jazz instruments often imitate other sounds. (See: The beginning of Take the A Train where the trumpet is acting like a train.)
Annnd the last picture book for jazz is about Dizzy Gilespie– a famous jazz trumpet player who invented bebop. Throughout the story, it talks all about Dizzy– and especially how he likes to clown around and mess with people while they were playing. It could be a good discussion about performance practice and why we SHOULDN’T throw spitballs or elbow people off the piano. Recommend for 3rd grade and older.
There you go– quite a few picture books for jazz to get you started!
Which one is you favorite? Did I miss one? Let me know by sending me a message over on Instagram @beccamusicroom
And don’t forget to grab the FREE jazz musician bracket here!
Looking for more? Check out Books for Black History Month here!