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Jazz with Brianna

Jazz is a quintessentially American art form. It is a hybrid created by the convergence in North America of African traditions brought predominantly by enslaved people with western European traditions brought by free colonists that specifically nurtured the ethnic and cultural melting pot that became New Orleans at the turn of the 20th century. The essence of jazz is swing, the inimitable rhythmic lilt that lends jazz its distinctive feel and underlying groove. Jazz spread to cities throughout the US during the Great Migration, the movement of Black Americans leaving the southern states after the Civil War. It was during the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s that jazz established its foothold in New York City; in time, New York City became the jazz capital of the world.

Brianna grew up surrounded by music. Her father, Charlie Thomas, was a vocalist and percussionist, and Brianna began appearing with his band at the age of six. At eight, she won the first of 13 trophies in area talent shows. Before she reached her teens, she was touring Europe with the Peoria Jazz All-Stars. Brianna’s soulful singing is deeply enriched by an understanding of the masterful voices of jazz history. It incorporates the sass, emotionalism, and deep instrumental knowledge of Sarah Vaughan; the coyness of Nancy Wilson; the scatting of Ella Fitzgerald; and the stylistic breadth and vocal grandeur of Dianne Reeves.

Meet Brianna!

Introduce your students to Brianna with this “Meet Brianna” video. Visit the video index to watch all the videos for Brianna and the other Fall Semester artists.


The lower Manhattan skyline
Lesson 1: Learning “Blue Skies”
Students will sing “Blue Skies,” and learn about some of the key musical elements found in jazz.
Spirit of Harlem mural
Lesson 2: Learning “Take the A Train”
Students learn “Take the A Train” and how to scat, imitating instruments and creating their own musical language.

Resources for Teachers

The following resources provide background information about the musical genre and culture. Some are intended to be shared with students; others are for teachers who may want to explore further on their own.



Literacy Extension

New York City Resources

There are many resources for jazz in New York City, including:

  • National Jazz Museum in Harlem, Manhattan
  • Louis Armstrong House in Corona, Queens
  • Jazz at Lincoln Center in Midtown, Manhattan
  • Smoke Jazz & Supper Club in the Upper West Side, Manhattan
  • Jazz Standard in Murray Hill, Manhattan
  • Village Vanguard in the West Village, Manhattan
  • Cotton Club in Harlem, Manhattan
  • Ginny’s Supper Club in Harlem, Manhattan
Image Credits

“Manhattan / New York City / NYC Skyline” by Michael Vadon is licensed by CC BY 2.0.
Detail, Spirit of Harlem, Louis Delsarte 2005 © Courtesy of DPS/Atlanta, GA, photo by Trish Mayo, 2018.

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