Jazz Appreaciation Month LogoEach April brings withit the hope that even more students will be enlightened by America’s Music: Jazz.   Although jazz has its roots in both African and European music, the birth of jazz is truly and wholly an American phenomena: because of this, it should  be treated by Americans everywhere like the cultural treasure that it  is.

Names like “Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington”, should not be unfamiliar to our children.   These people, and countless other jazz innovators, not only created a unique and exciting  form(s) of music, they provided the foundation for almost all popular music to come after it!

This post contains a template for a very interesting lesson plan… one that highlights the Women of/in Jazz.   I’ve spent a lot of time teaching jazz history courses at the College/University level and I’ve found that, other than female vocalists, little is mentioned in the “texts” about female jazz instrumentalists and band leaders.   Some enlightened  jazz “buffs” know of Mary Lou Williams, but for many ,that piece of information is where their knowledge of female jazz contributors and instrumentalists begins and ends

I hope that this 50 minute long lesson plan is able to be used by many of you in your late-elementary, middle-school, and high school music/arts classes.  Please feel free to share this link, the associated Student PDF, and lesson plan with all of your music teacher and art history teacher friends.

Lesson Plan Title:

Women Instrumentalists and Band Leaders in Jazz


Learn about the rich heritage and role that women have played with regard to the jazz medium

U.S. National Music Standards met by this lesson plan:

6. Listening to, analyzing, and describing Music
8. Understanding relationships between music, the other arts, and disciplines outside the arts
9. Understanding music in relation to history and culture

Materials Needed:

  1. Internet Connection with access to YouTube
    (Find these particular videos by accessing my public YouTube Video Site: http://youtube.com/pisanojm and choosing Women of Jazz Lesson Plan)
  2. LCD Projector and Integrated Sound System
  3. PDF Student Lesson Handout -Click to Download
  4. Access to this page for the links and information

Start the lesson by playing Stormy Monday Blues (1968), by Count Basie, featuring Vi Redd who both sings and plays the alto saxophone.  Ask the students if they can name ANY jazz musicians, then ask them if they can name or discuss any female jazz figures (vocalist or otherwise).

Elvira “Vi” Redd, Stormy Monday Blues 3:23 (1968):


Direct YouTube Link:

Explore the lesson by playing the YouTube example of Lil Hardin playing with the King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Group entitled “Riverside Brass”.  Discuss the elements that make this style of jazz early-combo style/ New Orleans/”Dixieland jazz” music.  Mention Lil’ Hardin’s style of piano playing on this piece.   Next, play the piano solo by Toshiko Akiyoushi (The Village) played by her at her 60th Anniversary Concert.  Briefly discuss the difference between Lil’ Harin’s role in the piece as accompaniment as compared to Akiyoushi’s soloist performance, also take a few minutes to note the drastic difference in  jazz styles.

2. Lil Hardin, Riverside Blues 2:52 (1923):


Direct YouTube Link:

3. Toshiko Akiyoushi, The Village 5:43 (2007):


Direct YouTube Link:

Develop the lesson by discussing one of the most prolific composers in jazz (female or otherwise), Mary Lou Williams.  Not only was she an amazing jazz pianist, she wrote hundreds of compositions and arrangements for famous bandleaders including, Duke Ellington, Andy Kirk, and Benny Goodman.  Play the song by Mary Lou Williams & Her Kansas City 7, Baby Dear.  If there is enough time, play the YouTube Example of Mary Lou Williams’ tune Roll ’em as played by the Benny Goodman Big Band.

4. Mary Lou Williams, Baby Dear 3:00 (1930s):

Direct YouTube Link:

 Select Compositions by Mary Lou Williams:

  • Roll ’em
  • Camel Hop
  • What’s Your Story Morning Glory
  • Little Joe from Chicago
  • Walkin’ and Swingin’
  • Bearcat Shuffle
  • Messa Stomp
  • Scorpio
  • Steppin’ Pretty
  • Big Jim Blues
  • Trumpet No End
  • Tisherome
  • Chunka Lunka
  • In the Land of Oo Blah Dee
  • Rosa Mae
  • Art of Contrition
  • Hymn in Honor of Saint Martin de Porres
  • Mary Lou’s Mass

Close the lesson by playing videos from two famous Female Band Directors –Ina Ray Hutton (Leader of “Ina Ray Hutton and Her Melodears jazz band”) and Blanche Calloway (Leader of  “Blanche Calloway and Her Joy Boys” and the older Sister to “Cab” Calloway).   Take a few minutes to discuss why it was difficult for a woman to be accepted as a jazz instrumentalist, or even more difficult -a  jazz band leader, before recent times.

5. Ina Ray Hutton, I’m a 100% With You  2:40 (1930s):


Direct YouTube Link:

6. Blanche Calloway, I’m Gettin’ Myself Ready For You 3:13 (1931):


Direct YouTube Link:


  • Are the students able to identify a number of the women talked about in this lesson?
  • Can the students talk about why it is important for women to be included in the discussion about “jazz history”?
  • Are the students able to talk about why it was difficult for women to be accepted as soloists, composers, and band leaders in a “world” that was dominated by men?
  • Can the students hear differences the differences in some of the styles of jazz presented by the videos?
  • Cultural relevanceif included in the lesson discussion -Are the students able to discuss why it may have been even more difficult for woman to be accepted in this music-stream if they were not caucasian or “white”.

40 more amazing women that are important to the history and currency of Jazz:

  1. Alice Coltrane
  2. Anita O’Day
  3. Betty Carter
  4. Bessie Smith
  5. Billie Holiday
  6. Carmen McRae
  7. Cassandra Wilson
  8. Chris Conner
  9. Clara Smith
  10. Dolly Jones
  11. Diana Krall
  12. Dianne Reeves
  13. Dinah Washington
  14. Dorthy Ashby
  15. Ella Fitzgerald
  16. Emily Remler
  17. Ernestine Anderson
  18. Ethel Waters
  19. Etta Jones
  20. Geri Allen
  21. Helen Forrest
  22. Jutta Hip
  23. Kay Star
  24. Kelly Smith
  25. Kitty Kallen
  26. Lena Horne
  27. MA Rainey
  28. Marian McPartland
  29. Melba Liston
  30. Natalie Cole
  31. Nina Simone
  32. Norma Carson
  33. Patti Bown
  34. Rosemary Clooney
  35. Sarah Vaughn
  36. Sheila Jordan
  37. Shirley Horn
  38. Shirley Scott
  39. Stacey Kent
  40. Terry Pollard

Future Assignment/Project for students:

Have your students collaborate by making a PowerPoint/YouTube/Web-Search  interactive presentation about any of the great female jazz artists listed here (or elsewhere).

Minimum Assignment Requirements:

  • Brief Biography
  • Half-dozen pictures
  • Two YouTube Videos (if possible)
  • A brief written synopsis about what type of Jazz they perform and what instruments they play and why they are important figures in Jazz.  Why did they pick her and/or why do they like her or learn about her in the process?

Futher Online Resources:

Please let me know if you are/will be using this in your classrooms!  Enjoy Jazz Appreciation Month, but more importantly -Enjoy Jazz!


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