On occasion I have taught a very basic 45 minute “History of Jazz” class to first and second graders. I play music and show video, hold up classic record album covers, and read a quotation or two. Without fail, the 6 – 8 year olds are excited by the music and images, and it is exhilarating to see them get to their feet and unabashedly dance, inspired by the music of Armstrong, Goodman, Ellington, Basie, Billie, and Monk. Their energy is unbounded, and is a reminder of what lives inside children before many unlearn their “hip” roots.
Whenever a new book geared toward teaching children about jazz music is released, I am moved to share the news…Check out Journey to Jazzland, a picture book to inspire kids to learn about jazz. Conceptualized by Gia Volterra de Saulnier, she writes that she hopes to “get more kids inspired to learn at least a little bit more about jazz,” and to get them to know about “this important music history that really should be kept alive.”
Author Gia Volterra de Saulnier’s introduces us to her book….
When I was 14 years old, I was introduced to “Jazz Suite for Flute and Piano” by Claude Bolling and Jean-Pierre Rampal. It was then that I fell in love with jazz. My mom had listened to jazz before that, and since I had been playing flute at age 11 on, this album really had me intrigued as to how to play that kind of music.
It wasn’t until I got to college at University of Lowell, I heard jazz coming from the lower auditorium. I never really played jazz before, and I went down with my flute, and found myself just immersed in the music. Then I was asked to improvise on the piece, even though I had no idea what to do next.
Not only did I learn more about jazz, but I got to audition in front of Fred Budda (Boston Jazz Pops drummer) and play with some of the best jazz players in the school. I felt so inspired to just play from my heart and soul that it didn’t feel like it was coming from my instrument, but something unknown yet seeming familiar somehow.
At Bunker Hill Community College in 1999, I took a class at Bunker Hill Community College and the final project was to write and draw a picture book for children. I wanted to tell my story of how I never gave up playing jazz, how I pushed so many boundaries of not only the music but the stereotypes that go with it. My first time going to live blues jam sessions with my flute, I remember that people were a little leery of seeing a flute player; they weren’t sure what to make of me. Instead, I challenged the musicians that if I played just one song and if I was terrible, I’d sit back down and if I wasn’t terrible or if they thought I was actually good, I would sit in with them for the rest of the night. I guess I was pretty good, as they never asked me to sit back down again, and from then on I became “The Flute Chick” for years at The Cantab in Cambridge.
My concept was “Journey to Jazzland” – about a Flute named Windy who gets bored in Orchestra one day and wants to learn more about jazz. I hand drew all the artwork with crayon and pen, and got an A on the project. In 2000, I sent my book out to be published and got rejected, so the book sat on my shelf for over 12 years until 2012 when I went on Facebook marketing our Renaissance Faire events we were doing here in MA and NH, I found this small publisher and sent an e mail request to see if they would be interested in publishing my picture book.
After numerous e mails back and forth, I finally got a Yes, we’ll publish it on my birthday of 2012 and since then my book has been on its own “Journey”. I’m now up to 12 positive reviews on Amazon, but more importantly, kids are reading the book, liking the characters, and now are asking questions about music and jazz! I truly believe this book has been making an impact on kids to teach them a little basic music theory without getting too technical or pushing musicality in a way that they can’t understand.
Instead, I created characters that are all musical instruments with music related names: Windy Flute, Spitz Trumpet, Ebony Piano, Reed Sax, Sly Guitar, Boomer Bass and Kitt Drums. All of these characters are lovable to both boys and girls and so far, I’ve inspired some young children to want to learn more about these instruments and want to know how to get to Jazzland! I am hoping that I get more kids inspired to learn at least a little bit more about jazz. I want them to know about this important music history that really should be kept alive. I am also hoping that music teachers include this in their curriculum. I do know that there is a “First Grade Jazz” in Connecticut http://www.firstgradejazz.com done by Craig S. O’Connell has done a fantastic job of doing this and has a great section on his website of other picture books about Jazz (“Journey to Jazzland” has been included on that list).
The illustrations are beautifully done by Ms. Emily Zieroth who took my original art and created lovable characters that boys and girls can relate to. When the characters get to Jazzland, Ms. Zieroth’s genius idea of taking posters of that time period and shrinking them down to post them up on the Marquis of when they arrive. You can see Ella and Chick Webb (for example) which will bring parents and grandparents remembering all these amazing (and familiar) famous names from that time period.
In November of 2013, I got a chance to do a Book Release Party at Sarrin Music Studio in Wakefield, MA where I got a 6 piece jazz band together and there were plenty of kids there (even a three year old young girl with silver shiny shoes tapping her little foot to the pieces of music) that not only enjoyed the music, but also fell in love with my book.
I’m just honored that kids want to read my book and they like it enough to learn more about jazz. I’m hoping that this book will be in more music teacher’s hands and included in their curriculum, and I’m willing to come to schools and talk about my knowledge about this wonderful music history that I believe should be taught and help keep music in Elementary schools.
Gia Volterra de Saulnier was born and raised in Fairhaven, Massachusetts and attended University of Lowell (now University of Massachusetts, Lowell). It was there that she learned to love jazz. She has been performing jazz and other kinds of music for over 20 years, throughout the New England area. She lives in North Reading, Massachusetts with her husband Richard and her son Charlie.