Listening to music can be relaxing. It can be exciting and make us want to dance. Music can also serve as inspiration for artistic creations. I am a filmmaker, arts educator and parent. I’ve taught filmmaking in the past, but music was my first artistic love and passion. My sons share my love of music and I love passing on my musical knowledge and experience to them.
Recently, we explored jazz and celebrated the life of John Coltrane, who was born on September 23rd and who did things no one had done before in the genre of jazz. He was one of a kind. Coltrane played the saxophone and had a very unique improvisational stye. Down Beat magazine critic Ira Gitler described it as “sheets of sound,” a phrase Coltrane seemed to like. While Blue is his most notable album, with my sons (and with elementary school students that I teach) I prefer to introduce them to John Coltrane through Giant Steps because this piece features that technique so well.
As we explored music through art, we got out their art journals, color pencils, and paint. I played the song for them. They listened and started drawing. Then, they moved on to painting, letting the music inspire their artwork.
Their first drawings were erratic and frantic, as they struggled to follow Coltrane’s unique style. But, as they became more accustomed to it and sought to follow the sound more effectively, they switched to painting and began to depict scenes that the Giant Steps brought forth in their mind.
My youngest thought of a ladybug and how giant its steps might feel as it walked along a tree and tried to not fall. He was rather literal while my oldest seemed to be inspired by our discussions around Coltrane. He loved the term “sheets of sound” and found it to be quite appropriate. Ultimately he created an art piece he calls “Yellow: A Self-Portrait.” Sheets of color to accompany sheets of sound.
I also shared two videos with my son created specifically for Giant Steps. The first highlights another artist who was inspired by this song. When I share this video in my music classroom, I cover the tables in large butcher paper for the children to draw on as they listen. I find that if they watch this video first, it influences their art. So, it can be fun to have students/your children do art first by just listening, then let them watch the video and create a new piece of art. You can compare the difference.
I also like to show students the animated sheet music for giant steps — this really got my boys excited. They loved seeing the actual melody pop off the page as the notes passed by.
Do you listen to Jazz with your children and/or students? How do you explore musical learning with them? I’d love to hear all about it in the comments. We also find that books are a great way to learn about music, and Colours of Us recently featured 18 Multicultural Children’s Books About Jazz. I’ve used Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Vocal Virtuosa in my classroom and students love it! Share your favorite books about Jazz, Blues, Folk Music, etc. Let’s build our musical libraries together!
Looking for other ways that music can inspire? Check out these other articles.