Teaching to Critique: Implications for the Integration of New Jazz Studies in Jazz History Courses


  • Hadassa Gitau


Due to the formation of a traditional jazz canon, jazz has become a highly regarded topic of study in educational institutions. The evolutionary narrative of the canon, which ties together the early genres of ragtime and swing to the later styles of bebop and fusion, offers an easily accessible platform for students to learn about the music and to understand its historical and cultural significance. However, New Jazz Studies, beginning in the 1990s, has proven this canonical approach to be too limited and simplistic for the ongoing study of jazz. This revolutionary academic movement critiques the conventional canon for its restrictions on what is deemed important enough to be included in the pedagogy of jazz. Thus, the original method of teaching jazz is called into question, and a challenge emerges for educators to conceptualise the inclusion of New Jazz Studies in their history courses. The challenge lies in the need to familiarise students with the story of jazz whilst also encouraging them to be critical in their interaction with that story. This article proposes a solution to this problem, suggesting practical methods in which students be taught how to appreciate the traditional canon, not as an impenetrable monument, but as an object of study in itself, one that can be evaluated and taken apart. Students can also learn how to offer their own alternative canons which feature sophisticated insights that they believe should be represented more within the conversation about jazz. In this way, students become active members in the discourse as they create new canons that revitalise jazz within the classroom.

Author Biography

Hadassa Gitau

Hadassa Gitau is currently studying a BMus degree, majoring in Musicology. She is very interested in a variety of subjects, ranging from ethnomusicology to film music, all of which she has explored as part of her musicology degree. She is particularly interested in the study of music historiography and the canon phenomenon, and she hopes to extend this study further during her honours year.