Monday, January 17, 2005

All That Jazz

At this time each year elementary schools across the country (except maybe in Mississippi, who knows) teach the kids about African-American history and the Civil Rights Movement. It's all a bit academic and bloodless, similar to the way that i was taught about the Civil War in elementary school back in the Cretaceous period. Nathan, my older son, who's in 5th grade, is starting to get some of the details now (they studied Brown v. Board of Education for example), but for whatever reason-- political correctness, fear of parental reaction, concern for the tender minds of the youth-- they leave out most of the ugly and complex.

I usually try to amend my sons' school material with some extras, so in the past we've bought books on black leaders and scientists, or we've watched shows on PBS or the History Channel. But this year, i got to help out in a way that was both fun and extremely satisfying. Nathan's class spent some time studying the life and music of Duke Ellington, so we spent an evening listening to music. We played several renditions of Take the A Train, Mood Indigo, Sophisticated Lady, Caravan; and we played several tracks from Blues In Orbit, one of my favorite CDs. We listened to 1956 Newport concert, including Paul Gonsalves's famous solo on Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue. We crossed over into some collaborations Ellington did with Louis Armstrong and John Coltrane so that we could expand the boundaries slightly. We also got out Andrea Davis Pinkney's excellent kid's book on Ellington, which we bought several years ago.

Fortunately, swing is innately fun music so this didn't turn into some sort of didactic chore. The boys were dancing around the family room most of the time. Since they both play piano, i think they like the fact that Ellington was a piano player who had to take lessons as a kid just like they do.

Living in southern California, my half-Filipino, half whatever-i-am kids are pretty much normal. Or perhaps it would be more correct to say that race doesn't really figure into their notions of normalcy. They know other kids who run practically the entire spectrum of African-American, Latino and Asian mixes, even if our neighborhood does still skew a bit toward the white/blond region. Regardless of how much education they get, I hope that racism will always be an entirely incomprehensible concept for them.

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