Jazz Communication

jazz communicationLiteracy is, among other things, about communication. Writers write, readers read, and ideas and experiences are shared. Then I started thinking about communication in all its glorious forms. What about jazz music? Specifically, improvisational, free form, impromptu jams in which the musicians carry on entire musical conversations with their instrument voices. How exactly does that work? What cues are the musicians using? How do they know when to start? When to stop?

My search for answers led me to the very talented Dr. Karen Zumbrunn, jazz pianist extraordinaire, who was thrilled to bring some jazz communication to our library.

karen zumbrunnAt the program, Karen was joined by Brian Glassman on double bass and Tom Sayek on drums. All I can say is…wow. I can’t believe what they packed into that 60 minute performance.

jazz trioKaren explained accents, beats, syncopation, melody, tone, changes, coda, chords, tags, and pitch. Interspersed with her instruction were jazz pieces that not only demonstrated the concepts she was explaining, it also got the kids singing, clapping, and dancing along!

dancingAt the end of the program, the kids were invited to come up and meet the musicians and the instruments.

meet the pianoThe drum set was an absolute mob scene.

meet the drumsBut, as a former bass player, I made a beeline for the double bass. It was made in Concord, New Hampshire by Abraham Prescott circa 1820. Love. Loooove.

meet the double bassLater, I caught up with Karen to ask her a little more about jazz communication.

Please tell us a little about yourself!

My parents related they could not keep me away from the piano when I was growing up. I began lessons age 5 (a wonderful neighborhood teacher who was a big influence and friend). By my teen years I wanted to play jazz and began playing professionally at age 16. With the money I saved I went to Paris for a year and, in addition to studies at the Sorbonne and  L’Ecole Normale de Musique, I performed at the Blue Note, a famous jazz club there. This led to many things including my first recording in Rome with the “International Stars of Jazz.”

Upon my return from Paris I entered the MA program at Ohio State University and my master’s thesis, “12 Blues of Charlie Parker” was the first one at OSU on jazz. My other love is teaching so I got a second Masters in Education. I completed my Ph.D. at the University of California at Berkeley, incorporating jazz into part of my dissertation.

My life has been filled with my love of jazz and of teaching. I was an Associate Professor of music at Bergen Community College and also taught at Rutgers, Middlesex Community College, and Mercer Community College.

How did you decide to present jazz communication to kids?

Libraries are all about communication – through the written word and illustration. I was aware of some of the many fine programs Dr. Dana had offered in the past – from the Japanese storytelling to other activities. In discussion with Dr. Dana, we explored the idea of presenting jazz as another form of communication. We wanted to present pieces that were in a fairly bright  tempo. Dancing, clapping, moving around was encouraged. There is no jazz experience without with players and an audience in communication. Jazz is fun!

There was a bit of singing (and dancing!) during the program. Why did you decide to add a singing component?

I have performed in many library and school situations. I like to have the audience sing a folk song that is not too complicated – then they can follow the improvisations and creations the jazz musicians present. Our goal is always to make jazz less of a mystery so even children will not be afraid of the word “jazz” and will open their ears.

Who are some of your favorite jazz musicians?

There are so many fine jazz musicians, past and present, on every instrument – too many to mention. From the piano sounds of a Les McCann, Bud Powell, Erroll Garner, McCoy Tyner, Hank Jones, Tommy Flanagan to the smooth cornet of a Bobby Hackett or   swinging sax of a Cannonball Adderley, the list of talented artists would take several pages. There are fewer places to hear and perform jazz now than some years ago – so the library did a major service to the community by offering this free program.

Sneak Peek: Giant Floor Maze

giant floor mazeYou’ve been getting little hints on our Instagram, but here’s an exclusive first look at something big on our horizon. This month, my library is hosting a major math event. It’s called A Day at Digitopolis (named, of course, after the famed city in The Phantom Tollbooth). Today, you’re going to get a sneak peek at one of the activities – a giant 16′ x 16′ floor maze. But this is no ordinary maze! You have to get from start to finish without taking a single right-hand turn. Want to build one of your own? Read on!

I first encountered this puzzle at the Manhattan Museum of Math (home of the famous square-wheeled trike!). Their version, however, is a no left-hand turn maze that’s digitally projected on a big section of their exhibit floor. A floor projection wasn’t an option for us, nor was a vinyl mat, nor cardboard. The answer? $30 worth of green contact paper and a maze design by Robert Abott.

robot abott's maze

©2009 by Robert Abbott

I did have to make a couple tweaks to Robert’s original maze. In his version, there are a couple of sections where the path goes right to the edge of the maze (specifically, on the left, right, and top sides). I added a border of green boxes to keep the pathway entirely enclosed.

added boundriesOnce I finalized the maze design and decided that it was going to be 16′ x 16′, I had to calculate how much contact paper we needed. The rolls I found on Amazon were a standard width of 18″, so I just had to determine the length. I work best with models, so I crafted a little maze, in which 1″ = 1 foot.

dr. dana's modelOnce I added up the lengths of all the pink pieces, I had a rough estimate of how much contact paper we would need (112.25′). I ordered two, 75′ rolls, which left plenty of extra paper for mistakes. The task of actually building the maze fell on Marissa and Casandra Monroe. Casandra is a Princeton University student and super math whiz!

casandraCasandra sketched the maze on graph paper, in which 1 square = 1 square foot. Then she drew a 16 x 16 square and sketched the various pieces inside it. To make the calculations nice and simple, she made path through the maze 1′ wide.

casandra's diagramThen, Marissa and Casandra headed to the library’s cavernous main lobby and started building. They laid down the outer walls of the maze first:

arranging the exteriorAnd then cut and placed the internal pieces of the maze.

arranging the interiorWhile they were filling in the pieces, they used a measuring tape to keep the path as close to 1′ as possible (even though there were some areas where the path was wider).

measuring the pathwayMarissa and Casandra kept the backing on the contact paper. But to keep the pieces from curling up, they used masking tape loops to temporarily adhere it to the floor.

tape loop expertThey also used permanent marker to label the backs of all the pieces and match them to a diagram of the maze.

writing the lettersThe morning of the event, we’ll be able to glance at the diagram, check the backs of the pieces, and peel and stick the maze quickly (we’ll have a measuring tape on hand to remeasure the pathways too).

set-up diagramAll in all, the maze took about 3 hours to put together. Cue “Eye of the Tiger!”

eye of the tigerThree important things: 1) Don’t forget to mark the start and finish of your maze (we’re using extra pieces of contact paper with “start” and “finish” written on them in permanent marker); 2) At the event, make sure to have the solution posted somewhere nearby (or available as a handheld map); and 3) Test the maze!

Ian, our faithful maze tester, went through the maze and soon discovered that one of the green blocks was, if fact, making a necessary turn impossible. So Marissa and Casandra adjusted it, and sent Ian through again. No problems after that!

ian tests it outThe real test, of course, will be at the event. There might be some last minute tweaks or unforeseen problems when crowds of kids are introduced into the equation. I’ll dutifully update this post if there are!

This isn’t the first time I’ve used contact paper to make large-scale event activities. Check out our most popular toddler activity ever, right here.

Winter is Coming

winter is comingIt’s a diorama, a keepsake box, a mini exhibit, AND a lesson in ecology! Open the lid of this winter landscape and you’ll find the creatures that hibernate, burrow underground, and tunnel underneath the snow, complete with an information card!

open woodland boxWe read Over and Under the Snow, written by Kate Messner, and illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal (Chronicle Books, 2011). A father and child ski over the deep snow in the woods. Even though it’s a world of white, signs of life are everywhere – squirrel, owl, deer, snowshoe hare, and fox. But under the snow is yet another world. Shrews and voles run in tunnels. Bullfrogs burrow in the mud, bears hibernate, and a queen bee sleeps, waiting for the first signs of spring. The book ends with the child in a cozy bed, dreaming of nature. An absolutely beautiful book, with gorgeous, bold illustrations set against snowy white.

You’ll need:

  • 1 box with a lid
  • Brown construction paper
  • 1 woodland template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • An oval of blue construction paper (approximately 2.5″ x 4.5″)
  • An oval of silver mirror board (approximately 2.5″ x 4.5″)
  • A rectangle of brown wrapping paper (approximately 7.5″ x 10.5″)
  • A smaller rectangle of brown wrapping paper (approximately 3.75″ x 4.5″)
  • White cotton balls
  • 4 small clear plastic rhinestones (optional)
  • Scissors, tape, and glue for construction
  • Metallic markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

First, find a box with a lid. I used white cardboard pencil boxes with hinged lids from Discount School Supply (a dozen cost $17 so a bit of a splurge). To give the outside of the box a little pop of color, we put a strip of patterned tape around the perimeter, but this is optional (or, just use markers to decorate!).

Line the inside of the box (including the underside of the lid) with brown construction paper. Glue an oval of blue construction paper on the right side of the box lid. Cut and color the bear, bee, vole, shrew, and bullfrog from the template, and glue them inside the box. Use markers to draw burrows, dirt specks, and tree roots (we used metallic markers, and they looked great on the brown paper!). Glue the information card to the inside of the box as well.

open woodland boxClose the lid of the box, and glue an oval of silver mirror board to the right of the box, directly above the blue construction paper oval. If you don’t have mirror board, use tin foil.

Now for the tree! Use a brown marker to draw vertical lines on a tall, 7.5″ x 10.5″ rectangle of brown wrapping paper. Then squish, crinkle, and wrinkle the paper. The more wrinkly it gets, the better!

woodland tree step 1Roll the paper into a tube and secure it with tape. Cut 4 tabs in the bottom of the tube (each tab should be about 1.5″ long). Fold the tabs outwards. Later, you’ll use these tabs to attach the tree to the box lid:

woodland tree step 2Cut 5-6 tabs in the opposite end of the tube (these tabs are much longer, about 5″). Fold them out gently, then twist them to create the branches of your tree.

final steps woodland treeHot glue (or tape) the tree to the lid of the box. If you’d like to add a log to your landscape, use a brown marker to draw horizontal lines on a 3.75″ x 4.5″ rectangle of brown wrapping paper. Crinkle the paper, then roll the paper into a tube and secure it with tape. The final length of the log should be 3.75″. Set the finished log aside for a moment.

Glue white cotton ball “snow” to the lid of the box. Then cut and color the squirrel, owl, deer, snowshoe hare, fox, and tree leaves from the template. Glue these items, plus the log, to your winter landscape.

winter is comingFor some extra sparkle, I hot glued 4 small clear plastic rhinestones to the edge of the lake. But this, of course, is optional.

frozen lakeYour winter landscape is complete! Well, maybe not quite complete…

jon snowBet you a 33 pound chocolate dragon egg he’s coming back in season six.