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The Pierce College Preschool Jazz Choir

Ed Lewis is a retired Early Childhood Education Professor who loves adventure travel. He has explored the length of the Amazon River, lived in a cave in the Canary Island for 6 months, kayaked with Killer Whales in the San Juan Islands, and danced with the Duke of Arundel's daughter in jolly ol' England. He is a storyteller for adult and children's audiences. 

After I finally gave up on my misguided need to get approval from my father by following him into the business world, I followed my heart and my mother's sage advice by enrolling in a Private Teacher's College in Pasadena, California, called Pacific Oaks College. For the next 7 years I took one class per semester and eventually finished a Master's Degree in Human Development with an emphasis on College Teaching and Administration.

The first class I took convinced me that teaching children would be my lifelong career. It was a one unit weekend class called, "Magic Mountain: Unleashing Your Creativity."

Fifteen students camped out for 3 days at the home of our brilliant professor who lived in the Malibu Hills. She began class by stating that to enhance creativity in children we needed to explore our own creativity. We had many imaginative individual and group assignments for the next 3 days but my favorite and most meaningful activity was the topic of "Art".

Our project consisted of finding a piece of wood from her wood pile, wander the property to find materials to use as paint brushes, select some oil paints, and locate a space inside the house or anywhere outside on her five acres. I found a square piece of redwood about 8" x 10", sat down under a willow tree down by a pond, took out a crow's feather, and squeezed some orange oil paint onto the redwood.

I immediately burst into tears as I saw my fifth grade teacher standing next to me in front of the class. She was holding up my dark picture of a B-52 bomber and telling everyone that she had said we were supposed to draw a "pretty" picture and that this picture was a disgrace.

She then tore up my masterpiece and told me to go stand in the corner. Instead I shouted, "F-you" and ran out the door and was halfway home when the vice principal caught me and escorted me back to the principal's office where I had to lean over his desk and receive three swats with a board. Needless to say, I never participated in any art activities again and received an "N" in Art.

My mother had always wondered why I stopped drawing war and cowboy pictures but she just figured it was a phase I was going through. I spend two hours mixing colors and pouring my "soul" into that abstract painting.

Another activity I thoroughly enjoyed was called the "Storytelling Circle". One person began a story and passed it on to the person sitting next to them by saying, "AND THEN". On my turn, I managed to worm in a couple of sentences about a fifth grade teacher who was actually a witch.

That Monday, I returned to my job as a Preschool Teacher at the Pierce Community College Child Development Center in Woodland Hills, CA. just north of Los Angeles where I oversaw a program for 24 children ages 2-½ to 6 years whose parents were college students. I had so many ideas to explore and with my talented co-teacher and 2 student workers we developed a fun and meaningful curriculum that would UNLEASH THE CREATIVITY of these precious children.

We began by contacting various Department Chairs at the college to arrange for field trips to their classrooms. On Wednesday we visited the Art Department and observed students creating bowls, sculptures, and abstract art out of clay.

We then sat down with the students and with their own clay. These enthusiastic and creative children began creating aliens named "Neighboso," animals, shapes, letters, and just reveling in the feeling of wet clay. We returned every week for a month and eventually the children were able to paint their creations and the students fired them in the oven.



We explored microscopes and electric circuit boards at the science labs, played soccer with the college team, and wandered the orchards and gardens where we collected fruit and seeds.

We brought some of the seeds back to our preschool, created a garden plot, grew zucchini, tomatoes, watermelons and so much more. At our woodworking station the children created a produce stand and sold the vegetables to parents, faculty, and staff. They then took the money and looked through our toy supply catalogues and the more mathematically inclined children figured out what we could purchase with the money we earned.

My favorite exploration of the college was to the Music Department where we listened to the band, orchestra, and jazz choir. Brandon's mother sang in the jazz choir and one day as we were listening they did some JAZZ SCAT singing of a CAB CALLOWAY tune, "Minnie the Moocher". Using a CALL & RESPONSE format half the choir would SCAT some lines and the other half of the choir would answer them. It sounds like this:

Ba Do Whap A Do Be Da Do Wha
Ba Do Whap A Do Be Do Wah—YEA!!!

The Jazz Choir went into some amazingly "COOL" jazz rifts and smoothly slid into the words to the HI-De-Ho Man:

H-De-Hi De Hi De-Hi
(Echo: Call & Response)

Hi De He De Hi De Ho
(Echo: Call & Response)

The children were mesmerized by this singing and on the way back to our school the "LIGHTBULB" came alive in my overloaded brain. I told the children to sit down and we would sing a "JAZZ SCAT" like Brandon's mom had done with the Jazz Choir. I told them to echo me and began to create a melody using the word "LA". (Sing a melody here using LA)

I then taught them the Hi-De-Ho song and we performed it as a Call & Response song with the Jazz Choir.

Two days later we returned to listen to the annual Jazz Choir statewide competition where groups from colleges all over the Western United States competed in 6 categories for one week. They were judged by well known jazz groups like The MANHATTAN TRANSFER, and AL JARREAU. The 6 winning schools and the judging group performed in the gym on Saturday evening. It was always a packed house. Where else could you hear the Manhattan Transfer and 6 outstanding College Jazz Choirs for $10?

This particular year, 1978, the college jazz choir director asked us to perform the He-De-Ho at the Saturday concert with the Pierce College Jazz Choir. We had no hesitation and billed as the Pierce College Preschool Jazz Choir and the children decked out in their finest clothes, we "brought down the house".

At the end of that performance we even performed a "La-La" jazz scat tune with the headliners, "The Manhattan Transfer". We became so well known that we performed at many children's festivals including the International Children's Festival with Mayor Tom Bradley.

Well, five years ago I had the opportunity to hear the Manhattan Transfer at a Music Festival in Auburn. After the concert, I approached the two original members and asked if they remembered singing jazz scat with the Pierce College Preschool Jazz Choir and they said it was definitely a highlight in their career!

~ Ed Lewis








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