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School of Swing


School of Swing™ is a one-of-a-kind program that has introduced tens of thousands of students to Jazz music. This interactive and educational concert is a presentation that discusses the history of jazz, its improvisational components, and demonstrates various techniques. Students hear jazz, maybe for the first time, explained in a way they can understand. Students learn about the famous jazz musicians of history by listening to their compositions played live and dissecting the three elements of music: Melody, Harmony, and Rhythm. Turning the students into a human drum machine and singing with the band are just some of the interactive elements in the show. Every person in the audience will walk away knowing something new about jazz.


The overall School of Swing™ experience is made richer through a collection of supportive educational materials shown below. MCG Jazz created a written element to complement the live jazz performance and help teachers and students better recognize the myriad ways that jazz impacts their daily lives both in and out of the classroom – from concepts such as teamwork, to lessons learned from studying rhythm and syncopation, to the awareness of jazz music in popular cartoons and films.

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Roots and Origins


Jazz’ roots date back to the 1880s with African origins. Jazz combines elements of African music with elements of Western European music and was born in New Orleans, partly by the Creole subculture.  


The Creoles were originally from the West Indies and lived under the Spanish and French rule in Louisiana. They became free Americans under the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. The Creoles spoke Spanish and French and lived in the high society of the French district in New Orleans. The Creoles took pride in their formal knowledge of the Western European music and their social and cultural values that classified them as upper class.


On the West Side of New Orleans lived the uneducated, culturally and economically poor American blacks. Their music was based on simple melodies and complex cross-rhythms mixed in with verbal slurs, vibrato, syncopated rhythms, and "blues notes". The songs they sang were mostly spiritual or sung to pass the time of hardship and hard labor.


In 1894, the segregation laws were in effect in New Orleans, which forced the upper class Creoles to live on the West Side with the American blacks. The mixture of the two styles of music and two cultures intermingled and created the start of Jazz.

Genres of Jazz


The jazz that originated in New Orleans opened the door for many new jazz subgenres, including big band, ragtime, cool, blues, bebop, traditional, swing, Dixieland, and more.



Big Band: A style of orchestral jazz that surfaced in the 1920s and blossomed as popular music during the Swing Era (1935-1950). Also: any ensemble that played this type of music (i.e., a band consisting of brass, woodwind, and rhythm sections that played carefully orchestrated arrangements).


Ragtime: Notably the precursor to Jazz styles, early Ragtime music was set forth in marches, waltzes and other traditional song forms but the common characteristic was syncopation (see I – C, Jazz Techniques). In 1899, a classically trained young pianist named Scott Joplin  published the first of many Ragtime compositions that would come to shape the music of a nation.


Cool: A style of playing characterized by sparse lyricism and a related demeanor. First inspired by the understated style of saxophonist Frankie Trumbauer in the 1920s, cool jazz became widespread in the early 1950s.


Blues: African-American music, developed in the South during the mid-1800s, that became the foundation of most American popular music.


Bebop: A style of music developed by Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and others in the early 1940s. Characterized by challenging harmonies and heavily syncopated rhythms that demanded a new standard for instrumental virtuosity, bebop impacted every subsequent style of jazz.


Swing: The 1930s belonged to Swing. During that classic era, most of the Jazz groups were Big Bands. Derived from New Orleans Jazz style, Swing was robust and invigorating. Swing was also dance music, which served as its immediate connection to the people. Although it was a collective sound, Swing also offered individual musicians a chance to improvise melodic, thematic solos which could at times be very complex.


Dixieland: Sometimes referred to as Hot Jazz, Early Jazz or New Orleans Jazz, this style of jazz developed in New Orleans at the start of the 20th century and was spread to Chicago and New York City by New Orleans bands in the 1910s.  Dixieland jazz combined brass band marches, French Quadrilles, ragtime, and blues with a collective, polyphonic improvisation by trumpet (or cornet), trombone, and clarinet over a “rhythm section” of piano, guitar (or banjo), drums and a double bass or tuba.


Straight-ahead: A term used to refer to a widely accepted style of jazz music playing that can be thought of as roughly encompassing the period between bebop and the 1960s styles of Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock. This style of jazz is considered the lingua franca of jazz sessions and can usually be contrasted with smooth jazz.


Jazz Techniques


For students to understand what makes jazz unique from other genres, it is helpful for them to learn a few basic techniques commonly utilized in jazz. 


Call and Response: A typical characteristic of African music is "call and response." This style requires a song leader who sings or chants a solo line (the call), and then the rest of the singers "respond" with a part that is sung by everyone. Call and response became an important aspect of various forms of jazz.


Syncopation: A musical rhythm that accents a normally weak beat. For example, normally we expect that in a four-beat measure of music, the strongest beats occur on beats 1 and 3. In jazz music, often beats 2 and 4 become more important, and sometimes in-between beats are even accented.


Improvisation: To make up or create music spontaneously and in reaction to the sounds around you. The vocalist’s equivalent of instrumental improvisation is called scat singing.


Rhythm: For a jazz combo, the rhythm is usually set by the bass. The drummer then layers this rhythm with accents on his trap set and finally the harmony enters with other instruments. 


Bending or Twisting:  The bending of notes to achieve a more voice-like inflection.


Jazz Instruments


Brass and Wind Instruments –


Flute: A high-pitched woodwind instrument consisting of a slender tube closed at one end with keys and finger holes on the side.


Clarinet: A woodwind instrument having a straight cylindrical tube with a flaring bell and a single-reed mouthpiece, played by means of finger holes and keys.


Saxophone: A woodwind instrument usually made of brass, with a distinctive loop bringing the bell upwards. Sound is produced when air is blown through the instrument causing the reed to vibrate, and notes are produced by pressing different keys.


Trumpet: A brass instrument with a brilliant tone; has a narrow tube and a flared bell and is played by means of valves.


Trombone: A brass instrument consisting of a long cylindrical tube bent upon itself twice and having a movable U-shaped slide for producing different pitches.


String Instruments –


Guitar: A musical instrument having a large flat-backed sound box, a long-fretted neck, and usually six strings, played by strumming or plucking.


Piano: A musical instrument with a manual keyboard actuating hammers that strike wire strings, producing sounds that may be softened or sustained by means of pedals.


Bass: The largest bowed stringed instrument in the modern orchestra. The bass is usually considered a member of the violin family, is tuned in fourths and has sloping shoulders and a flat back.


Percussion –


Drums: A percussion instrument consisting of a hollow cylinder or hemisphere with a membrane stretched tightly over one or both ends, played by beating with the hands or sticks.

Program Instrumentation








Glossary of Terms


accent: To emphasize a beat or series of beats.

Afro-Cuban jazz: A clave-based, mostly non-vocal music that integrates modern jazz practice and style with the rhythmic elements of Cuban folkloric music.

arrangement: The organization of a musical work for a given ensemble; determines which instruments play when, what harmonies and what rhythmic groove will be used, and where improvisation occurs.

arranger: Someone who creates arrangements for musical ensembles.

bar: A musical unit consisting of a fixed number of beats-also known as a measure. 

beat: The basic pulse of a piece of music; the unit by which musical time is measured.

back-beat: Beats 2 and 4 in 4/4 time, particularly when they are strongly accented. (A term more used in rock 'n roll.).

bent note: A note that is seamlessly raised or lowered generally a half step away from the diatonic note; also known as a blue note.

blues form: A harmonic progression that typically consists of 12 measures, divided into three sections of four measures each. Often, the first section is a call or question, the second section repeats the question, and the third section resolves the question. The most basic blues form uses just three chords, though there are numerous variations.

bossa nova: A musical style developed in the 1960s that combines elements of cool jazz with Brazilian music and features complex harmonies, a steady straight-eighth-note groove, and sensual melodies.

brass: A family of musical instruments that includes trumpets, trombones, tubas, and French horns.

break: An established pause in the form of a tune during which an improvised phrase is usually played.

call and response: A musical conversation in which instrumentalists and/or vocalists answer one another.

chord: Three or more notes played at the same time, creating one sound. The harmonic structure of most songs is composed of a progression of different chords, on which soloists improvise.

chorus: A song form played to completion. When a musician solos, he or she may improvise several choruses in succession.

collective improvisation: Improvisation by two or more musicians at the same time; also known as polyphonic improvisation. See improvisation.

composer: The creator of a musical composition. See composition.

composition: A musical idea, generally including melody, rhythm, and harmonic structure, created by a composer.

cornet: A brass instrument very similar to the trumpet but possessing a darker sound. crescendo: A gradual increase in volume.

dissonance: A harsh, disagreeable combination of sounds that can suggest unresolved tension. 

dynamics: The variation and contrast of loudness and softness in a piece of music.

ensemble: A group of more than two musicians.

free jazz: A style of music pioneered by Ornette Coleman in the late 1950s that eschewed Western harmony and rhythm in favor of greater freedom of self-expression.

front line: Collectively, the primary melody instruments in a New Orleans band, namely the trumpet, the trombone, and the clarinet.

groove: A musical pattern derived from the interaction of repeated rhythms.

hard bop: A style of jazz characterized by intense, driving rhythms and blues-based melodies with a bebop sensibility.

harmonic structure: The pattern of chords for a song. harmony: The chords supporting a melody.

head: The melody statement of a jazz piece.

horn section: A grouping of musical instruments in a band or orchestra that generally includes saxophones, trumpets, and trombones.

improvisation: The impromptu creation of new melodies to fit the structure of a song. jazz parade: A procession of people playing a march in a jazz style.

jazz standard: A well-known tune by a jazz musician.

key: The central group of notes around which a piece of music revolves. 

listen: An intentional activity that requires actively trying to hear something.

lyrical: Possessing a poetic and super-melodic quality.

march: A style incorporating characteristics of military music, including strongly accented duple-meter (basic metrical pattern of two beats per measure), in simple, repetitive rhythmic patterns.

melody: A succession of notes that form the primary musical statement of a song or composition.

minstrel show: A variety act of song, dance, comedy, and theater popular in the 19th century and performed largely by white actors in blackface.

modal jazz: A style of jazz based on Greek scales known as modes rather than on the chord changes standard to most jazz.

orchestrate: To arrange music in a form that facilitates various instruments playing together.

ostinato: A musical phrase that is repeated over and over, generally by the bass.

percussion: A family of instruments generally played by striking with hands, sticks, or mallets. 

phrasing: The grouping of notes into musical statements.

polyphony: The sound or act of playing two or more melodies at the same time. 

polyrhythm: Contrasting rhythms played simultaneously.

register: The range of a voice or musical instrument (generally: high, me dium, or low).

rhythm: The organized motion of sounds and rests; the patterned repetition of a beat or accent that drives a musical piece forward.

rhythm section: A grouping of instruments that provide the rhythmic and harmonic structure in band or orchestra; usually the drums, bass, and piano.

riff: A short, repeated musical phrase used as a background for a soloist or to add drama to a musical climax.

scale: An ascending or descending progression of related notes.

scat: A vocal technique that uses nonsense syllables to improvise on a melody.

score: A written map of a piece of music that is created by the composer and that dictates the notes to be played by each instrument.

section: A subdivision of a musical composition. Also: a group of instruments in the same family (e.g., brass or woodwind) that form a discrete part of a band or orchestra.

shuffle: A rhythmic style that formed the basis of the blues and early jazz and informed the feeling of swing.

solo: The act or result of a single musician improvising, usually within the structure of an existing song. staccato: A playing or singing style characterized by crisp, short notes.

stride: A style of playing piano in which the left hand covers wide distances, playing the bass line, harmony, and rhythm at the same time, while the right hand plays melodies and intricate improvisations.

swing: The basic rhythmic attitude of jazz; based on the shuffle rhythm. Also: a style of jazz that appeared during the 1930s and featured big bands playing complex arrangements.

syncopation: The act of placing a rhythmic accent on an unexpected beat. 

tempo: The speed at which a piece of music is played.

texture: The overall sensory effect created by the combined sounds of musical instruments and harmonies.

theme: The central message or melody of a composition, usually a musical phrase or idea. 

timbre: The tonal quality of a voice or instrument (e.g., raspy, rough, smooth, clear, etc.).

time signature: A numeric symbol, expressed as a fraction, at the beginning of a written composition; describes the number of beats per measure and the rhythmic value of each note.

trading four's/two's: A form of discontinuous drum solo in which 2 or 4 measure sections are alternately played solo by the drummer, and by the band with another soloist (who goes first). The latter can be one particular soloist throughout, or it can cycle through the different instruments. Also, two different instrumental soloists can trade twos or fours with each other, such as the trumpet and the sax. This is called a chase. Trading twos or fours usually goes on for one or two choruses.

vibrato: A slight, often rapid fluctuation of pitch that enriches or dramatizes a note.

woodwind: A family of musical instruments that includes saxophones, clarinets, flutes, oboes, and bassoons.

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