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Jazz: An International Language

I just returned from ¡MissionWorks! in Indianapolis. It’s a gathering of international church leaders, missionaries, pastors and church members to celebrate and learn more about mission. The event, sponsored by Global Ministries (Disciples of Christ and United Church of Christ) is always a special time. Oîkos has performed several times in the past but it’s been a few years since our last performance.

MW PhotoI brought together Oîkos musicians from Cleveland (vocalist Angela Lynard, bassist Glenn Holmes, drummer Rick Exton) and St. Louis (vocalist Arianna Aerie, pianist Carolbeth True and me). It’s always a treat getting good musicians together, but in this case it was an all-star group of special friends who have performed with me throughout the years. And as always, they rocked! Or should I say, jazzed!

In worship we were asked to lead people in singing songs from South Africa, Nigeria, Mexico, Spain, Syria, and Palestine. Our concerts featured original compositions and jazz standards that correlated to stories and themes from around the world. The response from the participants was enthusiastic and joyous.

If it’s one thing that I’ve learned throughout the years it’s simply this: jazz is an international language of the soul. Whatever the cultural context, jazz speaks to people. Jazz is a uniquely American music but it connects seamlessly with other global music idioms—especially in worship. Whether from the African continent, India, China, South America or the Middle East, the indigenous music of the region has a unique relationship with jazz affirming mutual modalities and rhythms. In many ways it’s improvisation that links divergent music together providing musicians from any cultural setting the freedom to express their deep spirituality through their creative explorations.

Jazz has the artistry, universality and power to bridge the gap between cultures. It’s a musical sensibility that allows the Spirit to flow freely whatever our religious belief. When musicians connect beyond their borders, barriers are broken and we come to see more clearly that we are all part of one global village.