First Grade Jazz

A curriculum of jazz exposure for primary grade children by Craig S. O'Connell

Here's our first grade classroom Jazz collage mural that we created on a wall bulletin board. The first graders studied the work of the famous Harlem Renaissance artist Romare Bearden and listened to the bebop music of Charlie Parker as inspirations for this mural. The books on the shelf are some of the ones used in our curriculum on jazz for young children.



The Concerts / Jazz In The Classroom / Jazz Books For Kids /

Clips of Jazz Poetry Performances and Rehearsals


"Jazz in the Classroom"

The 2005 winner of the American Music Education Initiative (AMEI) national award by The National Music Foundation.

Endorsed and supported by USA Music and


Craig S. O'Connell's "Jazz In The Classroom: A Interdisciplinary Approach" is a full ten lesson plan curriculum for primary grade children that was selected as the 2005 winner of the American Music Education Initiative (AMEI) national award by The National Music Foundation. See the article from the "New Haven Register".

Jazz in the Classroom: An Interdisciplinary Approach

"Jazz in the Classroom" is a curriculum project, created by first grade teacher Craig S. O'Connell, that exposes and interests young children to the world of jazz music. Our first graders are exposed to the music of many of the most important jazz musicians including Bird, Miles, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Charles Mingus, Duke Ellington, Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, Art Blakey, Roy Haynes, Benny Goodman, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Jon Hendricks, Dinah Washington and Herbie Hancock among others. Using an interdisciplinary curriculum of ten lesson plans the children experience jazz while learning the elements of phonics, phonemic awareness, geography, poetry, art and other components of a first grade program. In addition, the music is played in the classroom and many age appropriate books are read to the children that highlight the lives of some of these fine musicians. Posters of John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker grace the walls of our classroom. Children are encouraged to listen, move, write, dance, draw and talk about the music as they hear it.


© Copyright 2016 by Craig S. O’Connell.

Rarely has jazz music been exposed to very young children. My program for promoting jazz includes ten lessons but, because of the ages of the children, the lessons are intended to be units of study that last more than one class period, most often lasting a week or more. The musical selections will largely reflect the contributions of African-American jazz musicians. The program I’ve developed is integrated with other academic areas including history, phonics, phonemic awareness, poetry, spelling, math, literature and geography.

Using an interdisciplinary approach, students are immersed in the music, vocabulary, stories and history of jazz in America with two major objectives. The first objective is to provide children with the opportunities they need to make informed, intelligent choices regarding the music they hear with specific focus on America’s classical music -- jazz. The second goal is to expose young children to the many positive and exciting contributions that African-Americans have made to American culture.

Jazz is a uniquely American art form. It is also an African-American art form, a musical gift to America from its most oppressed people. Throughout its life jazz has been deliberately denigrated and largely ignored in its homeland. Exposing and educating young children to this important musical art form is a celebration of the achievements and contributions of African-Americans.


Lesson 1. Children will develop and enhance their phonemic awareness skills using rhyme from the song "School Days" by Dizzy Gillespie and Joe Carroll and by referencing the nursery rhymes and game songs from the tune.
Lesson 2. Children will explore phonetic syllables found in scat vocals.
Lesson 3. The children explore poetry related to jazz.
Lesson 4. Children will be introduced to world geography through jazz songs.
Lesson 5. Children will experience jazz music using songs about foods they will eat.
Lesson 6. Children will learn an African-American folktale through a jazz song.
Lesson 7. Children will be introduced to the story form through jazz music.
Lesson 8. Children will extend their invented spelling and phonics skills by exploring nonsense syllables, words and lyrics from traditional jazz sources.
Lesson 9. Children will be exposed to the sound of jazz bebop and will explore some differences between bebop and more traditional jazz styles.
Lesson 10. Children will be introduced to historical biographies of some major jazz musicians using commercial resources and will celebrate the life of a jazz musician.

© Copyright by Craig S. O’Connell.


For more information contact: Craig S. O'Connell

Some Elements of Our Jazz Program


Photos of Jazz Musicians



Our Jazz Book

These are pictures from some of the jazz books we made in class. We listened to the music of Miles Davis and Charlie "Bird" Parker while we did these.



Don't Worry, Be Happy

These pictures below were made by the children following a reading of the book "Don't Worry, Be Happy", words and music by Bobby McFerrin. They are based on the work of Alexander Calder, whose illustrations are used for the book.


To Read Craig O'Connells's Poem for children about trumpeter Miles Davis CLICK HERE

For an annotated bibliography of books on jazz for primary grade children click the link below:

Jazz Books for Kids




The children make pictures describing Thelonious Monk's tune 'Round Midnight. Here are a few:




Drummer Billy Arnold
Bassist Kazu Sato and Pianist Christopher Bakriges





Based on the work of Romare Bearden and the music of Charlie Parker the children create jazz cats.
The photo below shows some of the collage cats on exhibit at a local coffeehouse:


From the New Haven Register, March 1, 2006, page 3...


Ed German, artist and host of WLIU's "Urban Jazz Experience"


The Ed German Jazz Art Exhibit


Horace Silver, Jazz pianist
pastel on paper 19 1/2 X 25 1/2