New TC Collaboration Investigates Democracy Through Jazz

Let Freedom Swing: Conversations on Jazz and Democracy” explores the deep relations of jazz music and elements of democratic practices. The project, officially launched over the weekend, is a collaboration between Jazz at Lincoln Center, The Documentary Group, Teachers College, and The Rockefeller Foundation. The innovative presentation combines the traditional study of American democracy with an innovative focus on the democratic purity of jazz.

The program is based around interviews with retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, and with musician and educator Wynton Marsalis. The two originally came together for a program at The Kennedy Center to mark President Obama’s inauguration. The resulting conversations probe the strong relationships between jazz and democracy, with help from dozens of current musicians. The interviews are presented in three brief but thought-provoking films.

“We The People” explores the initial connections between democracy and jazz, with a focus on the power of individuals. “E Pluribus Unum” looks at how people balance the interests of individuals and the group, whether in music or politics. “A More Perfect Union” describes how the union of sounds that is jazz music relates to the ongoing effort to improve the United States through the political process.

Teachers College created study guides that complement each film. The guides were developed for grades 6-12, and are relevant to classrooms interested in exploring politics, music, or the American character. The classroom resources include links to the films, a full study guide, list of key concepts, and overviews of the interviewees. Also included is a large compendium of links to relevant readings, websites, and videos. All of these great resources, which are freely available on the Let Freedom Swing website, match the suggested standards of the National Council for the Social Studies.