February is Black History Burgundy JazzMonth, a time to learn, honour and celebrate the achievements of black Canadians. An interesting entry point for you and your students to explore black history is Burgundy Jazz: Life and Music in Little Burgundy. The Curio.ca site describes the Burgundy Jazz project as “a multi-platform web documentary about Montreal’s incredible contribution to jazz through the legendary Black musicians of Little Burgundy.”   It is a springboard into learning about black history in Montreal, particularly around the middle of the 20th century. The focus of Burgundy Jazz is not just about jazz but also about the life of porters and the kind of employment opportunities that were available, the role of the church in people’s lives, as well as other issues faced by Montreal’s black community. From there it is easy to make connections to other topics, relevant to Black History Month, such as the underground railway, slavery, civil rights.

The Burgundy Jazz project includes an excellent Educator’s Guide available for free in both English and French (see links below). The guide contains five teaching units, each emphasizing different curriculum areas (social science, language arts, the arts). While there is an app, an eBook and a CD of music connected to the project, none are essential to the units in the guide. You can pick and choose from the units and the videos to suit your classroom objectives. The use of technology is encouraged throughout, in a seamless and purposeful way both in exploring the issues and in a final production.  Students are encouraged to work collaboratively to demonstrate understanding through the planning and production of videos, podcasts, photo montages, digital stories, digital maps, even websites. These units can be an inspiration to you, to use similar techniques in a variety of other contexts.

Curio.ca, a fee-based service, is an initiative of CBC and Radio Canada. Some teacher guides can be downloaded for free but the videos and audios can only be streamed by educators with a subscription. Check the curio website to see if your board has a subscription. Fortunately, the Burgundy Jazz project is open to all.

What we find particularly compelling about Burgundy Jazz, is that it addresses local issues, uses primary source documents (interviews, song lyrics, photographs, maps) and invites teachers and students to take on the role of local historian by ultimately asking the questions: What makes my community unique? How has my community changed over the years? How does Little Burgundy, historically and currently, compare to the situation in my own community? How is it the same or different now?

The web doc, which is comprised of fourteen video capsules, is a central part of the project and includes photographs, narratives and interviews which capture the essence of the time. Attached to each video are photographs, audio extracts and an additional video capsule. These are rich resources to explore.

For those who want to investigate other aspects of black history, there is a historical timeline which gives you a sense of the major events of the times. If music is your focus, there is a list of musicians with short bios as well as numerous audio examples of music of the era. One of the units looks at how black music has evolved. Students can be inspired to create their own hip hop music or spoken word poetry.

To learn a little more about the project, watch the video below.

According to the Educator’s Guide the content in Burgundy Jazz is appropriate for students from grades 6 and up. The units do, however, include some mature topics such as prohibition, drug use, burlesque dancing and prostitution. Viewed in context and deconstructed with the guidance of an educator, the videos can help students come to understand why this was a part of the jazz scene.

How have you approached Black History Month in your classroom? What connections have you made to the curriculum? How have you made it locally relevant to your students? Please share with us in the comments section below. And let us know if you are using the Burgundy Jazz resources in your classroom.

English resources:

Burgundy Jazz Site

Burgundy Jazz Educator’s Guide

Celebrating Black History Month (for curio.ca subscribers, a fee-based service)

Ressources en français :

Site Jazz Petite-Bourgogne

Guide pédagogique Jazz Petite-Bourgogne