A few years back Oîkos was leading an evening jazz vesper service in Claremont California. At the end of worship a young man came up and expressed his excitement about having jazz in worship—something he had never experienced before. Then he told me, “I’m a bassist and I play jazz gigs all over the area. It’s a spiritual thing for me and sometimes the music really feels like prayer.” He went on to say that he was a Christian and attended church regularly, but his church had never asked him to play his bass in worship. “Don’t get me wrong,” he said. “I dig the organ . . . for what it is. But it doesn’t swing!”
The young bassist then said he had seen our flyer about jazz vespers and was intrigued by the concept and just had to come, even though it was a different denomination from his church. He then got to the point. “Man, I was blown away by the service tonight. It opened up a whole new world for me. I never knew jazz was okay in worship . . . at least in my church.” He said he was so inspired that he was thinking about asking his pastor about having his trio play in worship. I encouraged him to follow through and share his music in worship. “Yeah,” he said. “I definitely will.”
We flew home the next day and I never heard from the young bassist again. But I hope he followed through on his mission, because we need more jazz missionaries in church.
Blessings on your mission,
So, when was the last time your congregation sang “Good Christian Friends, Rejoice” in 5/4; or “O Come All Ye Faithful” as a jazz waltz; or “Joy to the World” in a funky groove? As Advent and Christmas approach we’re offering new alternatives for churches to explore the spirit of the nativity by taking traditional Christmas carols and putting a contemporary, jazzy spin to them.
For many years I’ve marveled that the majority of folks, regardless of religious background, know the melody and words to the hymns (carols) we sing during the holiday season – well, at least the words to the first verse. In fact, many in our own congregations get lost in the words after the first time through. But that’s another story.
In truth, our culture is permeated with the carols most of us grew up with. And many of our churches have been singing them the same way for the past 50 (100 years?). We’d like to offer some creative alternatives. How about “O Little Town of Bethlehem” with a Latin beat? Or “What Child is This” as a modal arrangement in the style of John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things?”
The uniqueness of jazz is the ability for musicians to take any piece of music and re-imagine it in new ways – even the ancient 600 hundred-year old melody of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” All of the re-imagined arrangements in our volume of Christmas carols are singable in worship, although a few will take some practice with a good song leader. But, as my wife and I used to say when our children were young – practice makes progress! And that’s what our faith is all about isn’t it? Moving forward, striving to grow in the grace-filled love of Jesus Christ.
We hope you have fun with these arrangements. You may need to fasten your seat-belts when you get to the chorus of “We Three Kings” and band breaks into 7/4. But what a ride!
Blessings in 7/4,
Somehow, Christmas just seems like a “jazzy” time of year more than any other for me. Most of my favorite Christmas recordings are jazz, and a good portion of the Christmas music I hear on the radio is jazz-oriented as well. However, I think the connection between Christmas and jazz goes all the way back to my childhood when learning to play the piano. I had two favorite Christmas books that I played from every year, and both were set in jazz styles.
Christmas with Style by Jerry Ray was (and still is!) my absolute favorite. I would just sit at the piano and play straight through the book, from one arrangement to the next. It is a great book because the piano parts are not difficult to play at all, and yet they offer a rich set of sophisticated harmonies. I can remember my family telling me how much they enjoyed listening to them when I played them at our house.
The other book that I frequented at Christmas time was Tom Roed’s Advanced Piano Solos: Christmas Edition. These arrangements were more difficult, and my favorite part was that each piece was treated in a unique way. Sometimes you get Christmas books where all the songs sound the same, but that was not the case with this one – each arrangement has it’s own individual style, with a creative take on a traditional Christmas tune.
I’m hoping that our latest book, Worship in a New Key – Volume 2, will become for you like these other books have become for me. We believe that Christmas is the perfect time to introduce jazz music into the church, and we hope that the arrangements in our latest volume will give you the jumpstart that you need to make it happen. We have tried to come up with an individual, creative take on each tune, and yet we have given you many options for performance so you can best adapt the arrangement for your individual setting. Our hope is that you can use this book to enhance your worship in the Christmas season through jazz, and that maybe the sound of jazz at Christmas time will become a new tradition at your church.