Class Notes: History of Jazz Strikes a Chord with Students

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As the first few notes of a Duke Ellington tune sing from speakers, some of the 50 students in the Couch Building classroom start to tap their toes to the sounds of piano, bass, brass, and woodwinds, all blending together. Welcome to another session of the History of Jazz (MUSI 3630) at Georgia Tech.

“While most students listen to music in a passing way or to accompany an activity, we focus our attention on listening critically and trying to figure out what we hear,” said Cameron Crotts, the assistant professor who teaches the course and director of jazz studies in the School of Music. “By the end of the semester, a light switch usually goes on off as the students realize that most of what they listen to has been influenced in a large way by jazz and its roots in early American music.”

The goal of the course is to give a brief overview of jazz dating from 1900 to present. 

“One of my favorite sayings is: ‘Music affects society, and society affects music,’” Crotts said. “Music plays a huge role in our society and is often at the forefront of every major shift in thought or focus throughout history.”

There are no prerequisites to take the course, and it counts as three hours of humanities. During each class, students discuss genres of jazz — ranging from early Dixieland to modern jazz — and examine influential musicians (think Louis Armstrong and John Coltrane). But more importantly, they just listen to a lot of jazz music and discuss what they hear, Crotts added.

“One of the most significant lessons I learned from this course is the power to discover new frontiers through creativity,” said Chris Kingsbury, a nuclear and radiological engineering graduate student.

Kingsbury likened the creativity of jazz composers to scientists pursuing new ideas.

“Whether its Armstrong, Archimedes, Ellington, or Einstein, all of these figures stand out in history for taking bold creative steps into frontiers to establish physical and cultural truths that add to the progressive momentum of humanity,” he said. “By example of these great figures and participation in the jazz program, I have developed the courage to try new things, think in new ways, and approach problems from unique angles."

Those interested in experiencing the course will have the opportunity to take it this summer. For more information, email Crotts.



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