Posted on

Pentecost Jazz Possibilities

Tim & Cliff blurryIt’s been fun reviewing Tim’s list of classic jazz standards for worship. I’ve taken the liberty of suggesting songs from his post several month’s ago as possibilities for worship during Lent and Easter. Now that our post-Easter liturgical calendar gives way to the approach of Pentecost I thought I’d make celebratory suggestions for Pentecost Sunday.

Each of the five classic jazz standards that I’m suggesting can be used just about anywhere in the service, but if I were creating a Pentecost worship experience based solely on Tim’s extensive song list, here’s how I would incorporate them into the liturgy. The first song would be set for the prelude: “One by One” by Wayne Shorter. It’s a great upbeat number and if you perform it in the style of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, it offers an opportunity to showcase drumming energy to usher in Pentecost.

For the Introit I suggest “Israel” by the late trumpeter John Carisi. It’s not as well known as the other selections but it became a jazz classic after being recorded by Miles Davis on his album Birth of the Cool. It has a nice groove to set a joyous mood for worship. If you really want to hear the song in its depth give a listen to Bill Evan’s recording with his trio.

After the New Testament reading about the Pentecost wind and fire why not play “Holy Land” by Cedar Walton. The piano introduction and interlude set up the melody nicely. It doesn’t reflect the frenetic chaos of Pentecost, rather a memorable melody inviting listeners on a journey.

After the sermon and during the offering try Horace Silver’s, “The Preacher.” Its bouncy and fun melodic framework is a great invitation for all worshipers to be preachers—proclaiming the good news of the Holy Spirit’s presence in the world.

The postlude offers a great opportunity to stretch things a bit. Joe Henderson’s “Inner Urge” will take people for a ride, whether filing out of worship or staying in the pew to catch the full force of the music. It may be a little too intense for some church members but its energy is contagious, sort of like Pentecost.

What would be your choices? Let us know.

Wild Blessings this Pentecost!

Posted on

Easter Jazz Possibilities

NY conf 12 cropIt was just a few weeks ago that I reflected on an earlier blog by Tim. He was sharing some of his favorite classic jazz standards and I went a step further suggesting four songs for observing Lent with jazz lament. I listed J. J. Johnson’s “Lament” and Coltrane’s “Alabama.” I shared some of my lyrics to McCoy Tyner’s “Search for Peace,” and suggested Keith Jarrett’s “Prayer” as a beautifully simple, yet deep, meditative piece.

Well, it’s Holy Week and Easter is upon us. Here are a few thoughts about some great jazz compositions that could fit into your Easter Worship. Granted, these selections may not speak to everyone in your congregation, but if used in the right way they can help to create an exuberant mood for your Easter worship.

I have to begin with Coltrane’s “Acknowledgement” from his spiritual masterpiece, A Love Supreme. Played as an introit it sets a tone, acknowledging the power of the Holy to transform all of our lives. The well-known bass line could even act as a thread throughout the service, weaving the theme as an underlying affirmation of praise tying together all the acts of the liturgy.

Duke Ellington’s “Come Sunday” can be sung as a congregational hymn or used as a worshipful meditation, especially if you have a great vocalist interpreting the melody. It’s a compelling way to blend Duke’s spiritual emphasis with the message of Easter.

Another of Tim’s choices is “Footprints” by Wayne Shorter. I often use this as postlude, but it could fit in nicely to an Easter sermon about following in the footsteps of the risen Christ. Or how about Horace Silver’s “Song for My Father.” Even if your church progressively eliminates masculine pronouns, the music itself with its contagious Latin beat offers a nice melodic energy celebrating our kinship with the Creator.

And finally, for a rousing postlude that will keep everyone in their pew, or dancing in the aisle, McCoy Tyner’s “Passion Dance.” Because, after all, isn’t that how we’re suppose to dance through life—with the passion of the gospel burning within us?

Whatever jazz you offer this Easter, share it with the “wild blessing” of Easter.

Posted on

Lenten Jazz Lamentation

1413629107840.cachedA few months back Tim listed some of his favorite Jazz standards for use in worship. On the bandstand these songs provide ample opportunity for the band members to strut their stuff. But these tunes are also appropriate for worship where the band presents their individual and collective improvisations as a faithful offering on God’s sacred altar.

Now that we’re in the midst of the Lenten season, are these songs still appropriate for worship during this traditional season of introspection and prayer? While all of the standards that Tim mentioned hold promise I’d like to share my thoughts about a few which I believe are appropriate during this season of lamentation. All of the following can be used as service music during morning worship or evening vespers.

First, the obvious—J. J. Johnson’s “Lament.” As a slow melodic ballad it conjures up the meaning of its title. After playing through a chorus or two, transition into a swing tempo to provide a very different feeling. It’s not joyous, but there is an upbeat quality that mirrors triumph over struggle, hope over despair.

Speaking of despair, Coltrane’s “Alabama” is one of the greatest jazz compositions of all time, lifting up the despair following the Birmingham bombing killing four little girls. The opening rubato melody creates the mode and when the rhythm section comes in cranking it up just a notch, an improvisatory palette is created to express the depth of heart-felt lamentation.

Search for Peace” by McCoy Tyner is a beautiful journey into the soundscape of searching for unity, hope and peaceful resolution to the bitterness and strife of our world. I’ve written lyrics to McCoy’s expansive melody that have touched many in the pew:

Seeking a new horizon, searching for unity, all I see is set in confusion, love an illusion. How can it be?

Hoping to find an answer, yearning for sanity, but the world seems bent on destruction, lost in seduction. How can it be?

Searching for peace in the chaos and the strife. Hoping for peace to bring meaning to life. How can I make any difference at all? I’m just one voice feeling small.

Yet when it all seems hopeless, your gentle voice I hear: “Take my hand, we’ll do it together, make the world better. Peace is so near.”

It’s not an easy song to sing but in the hands of an accomplished vocalist the results can be amazing.

One final suggestion: “Prayer” by Keith Jarrett. It’s a wonderfully simple melody and is perfect for a trio, but add a horn and it gains color and depth. The song should definitely be played as a prayer, inviting he congregation to join in the spirit of prayer as you offer your prayerful improvisation.

Hoping that this will inspire you to invite the music of these great jazz giants into your sanctuary.