Indiana Avenue and C-Jam Blues

Historical Background

This unit discusses the historical context of jazz music in Indianapolis and the process of a jam session. In downtown Indianapolis, located on Capital Road, there is a mural of legacy musicians from the Indiana Avenue scene. It shows David Young and Jimmy Coe on the saxophone; David Baker, JJ Johnson, and Slide Hampton on the trombone; Freddie Hubbard on the trumpet; Larry Ridley on the bass; Wes Montgomery on guitar; and the photographer of these musicians named Duncan Schiedt. Schiedt is significant because he captured the history of Indiana Avenue on camera, released in the book The Jazz State of Indiana. The musicians on the mural are known historically for making an impact in jazz music and initially performing jazz along Indiana Avenue, the area around the Madam Walker Theater in downtown Indianapolis. This area was a thriving center for touring musical groups during the first half of the 20th Century with more than 40 clubs and theaters.

The creative and key elements of jazz are swing and improvisation. Creating and composing melodies in the moment is improvisation. Jazz musicians usually practiced the ability to interact with other musicians and improvise in jam sessions. A jam session is when musicians get together, decide on a song to play, and take turns soloing and supporting each other. Jam sessions have been the main format of learning for aspiring jazz musicians since the early days of jazz.

“C-Jam Blues” is a tune written in 1941 by jazz musician Duke Ellington. It features a unique melody having only two notes and be played easily on classroom instruments. The familiar blues form and call and response exercises built around the simple melody provide a glimpse into the world of improvisation.

Enrichment and Activities

Primary Grades

Scat Cat

Students learn about “scat” singing,  make up their own scatting phrases, and create a “Scat Cat” finger puppet.

Lesson Plan

Intermediate Grades

Musicians of Indiana Avenue

Students learn about the treasure that was Indiana Avenue and the incredible jazz musicians that played there, listen to their music, and review music elements such as tempo,dynamics, volume, and melodic contour.

Lesson Plan
C-Jam Blues Playalong