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AGO Workshop – “Jazz in Worship”


I was so thrilled yesterday to be able to share knowledge about jazz worship with attendees at the AGO (American Guild of Organists) regional convention in St. Louis.  It’s so gratifying to help others discover the wonder of jazz!  I’m hopeful that many of them can take what they learned and have a jazz worship service in their local church settings.

My goal in the brief workshop (only 45 minutes!) was to cover a lot of ground, starting with a theological background of jazz and working our way to practical ideas that could be implemented in their congregations.  Our time together centered around these three questions:

  • Why jazz worship? (a theological discussion of why jazz and worship complement each other)
  • What is jazz worship? (discussion of how we can infuse jazz and improvisation into the different parts of the worship service)
  • How to create jazz worship? (discussion of the practical details of planning and leading a jazz worship service)

It was truly a joy to present this information to the group of organists at the convention.  They all seemed genuinely interested in how they could apply these ideas to their local church setting, and I hope that I gave them plenty of practical advice for how to do it.  In the near future, I’d like to develop these ideas further into their own blog posts – look for those coming soon.

My favorite part of the workshop was when we got to “act out” a few of the examples together.  We started by singing some jazz versions of a couple of hymns, and it was amazing to see everyone’s faces light up after we sang a familiar hymn with substituted chords or a different meter.  For another example, we had volunteers read as different characters in a story from scripture and allowed the jazz musician (me) to give a brief improvisation as a commentary after each character spoke.  It really brought the gospel story to life!

I was very encouraged to find out there is a great deal of interest in the jazz arrangements of familiar hymn tunes that Cliff and I are working on.  We are looking forward to having these available soon!  Our hope is that they make it that much easier for musicians not as familiar with jazz to be able to implement a jazz worship experience at their church.

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Hello!  We are so excited to be launching our new website,!  We hope it becomes a resource that church musicians everywhere can turn to for creative jazz arrangements of hymn tunes in addition to tips, tricks, and suggestions for getting the most out of your jazz worship experience.

Within the next month or so, we will be adding our first set of jazz hymn tune arrangements that you can purchase and download electronically for use in your local church.  You will have the option to buy hymn tunes individually or purchase a volume of various hymn tunes that can be printed out in book form.  The arrangements will be set up similarly to a jazz play-a-long book (such as Jamey Aebersold’s jazz play-a-long series), with versions of each arrangement in a variety of keys and clefs.  We hope that these options give you the flexibility you need for planning your jazz worship experiences.

In the meantime, we are getting our blog up and running.  Our goal is to share with you ideas, suggestions, and experiences that we have when planning and leading our jazz worship services – hopefully these will inspire and guide you when doing your own!  And we hope that you feel free to ask us questions as well, to begin a dialogue among those who are passionate about jazz worship.

We’re working on several different jazz worship events right now that we will write about in future blog posts.  We hope that you will check back in with us soon!