Jazz

Misunderstood. Decadent. Spiritual. Acquired taste. American.

Lots more and all of the above.

Three short episodes of awareness over the past thirty-six hours have got me thinking on this. Hopefully you too might have something to add.

Yesterday was our parish’s annual Jazz & Barbecue event with our sister parish, St Louis, a predominantly black parish in our city. I asked my friend Joe, an outstanding musician on trumpet and flugelhorn, to sit in with my ensemble. He adds a high touch of class and celebration to liturgical music. I had the most fun improvising with him on the spiritual “Let Us Break Bread Together” and surprisingly, an impromptu version of “Oh, How I Love Jesus.” Jazz is a grandchild of black spirituals, coming to us via the Blues. I do wonder how the grandchild is received at Mass. I should point out that our parish’s big choir went to St Louis Parish as part of the choir exchange, so we moved the Ensemble to “their” usual Mass at 10:30. Since the anthem repertoire is mainly arrangements of praise songs, I didn’t think we’d be that out of place. Indeed, one parishioner gushed about it at the barbecue, saying that’s what church music should sound like. Naturally, I have the other view e-mailed to me last week: the link to Pope Benedict’s “hoist a beer” liturgical music and the suggestion for more “traditional music.”

Today, I was commenting on syncopation over at Hymnography Unbound, whose host I’ve noticed for having above-average thoughtful commentary in the blogosphere the past few weeks. Kathy brought up jazz and a comment that surprises me:

I personally do consider jazz to be, generally speaking, a music of despair, of trying to draw late-night, dark-lit pleasure out of the blues, instead of just letting the blues be the blues. Is Brubeck an exception? Ella? I don’t know.

Yet maybe it’s not surprising. Like any other music, jazz has a dark side. However, jazz as a musical idiom is at least as diverse as rock: dixieland, swing, bebop, acid, fusion, west coast, funk, cool, latin, etc.. To a non-believer, maybe it all sounds the same. Mark Gridley is acknowledged as the best guide to jazz styles. But you probably don’t want to bother with that much in-depth stuff.

At the barbecue lunch yesterday, the organizers brought in the UMKC Concert Jazz Ensemble this year. How marvelous. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard live big band jazz. My dad and I shared many jazz concerts here before I left for the midwest in ’88. It is hard for me to equate music like Bobby Watson’s “A Wheel Within A Wheel” to the quality of despair. (You can get a 3:30 sound capsule on that link.) The same is true of dixieland jazz. Or 40’s swing dance music. Or even the fusion styles with rock or even bluegrass.

It’s getting close to bedtime now. No more late night, dark-lit thoughts on this for me. I’ll pick it up with more observations later, but probably not till the weekend. So have at it.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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