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Jazz is a Verb

imagesIf it’s anything, jazz is a verb. It’s more like a process than it is a thing. —Pat Metheny

I love the music of Pat Metheny and have followed his career through the years, purchasing quite a few of his CDs along the way. I’ve never heard him perform in person—until last night! Pat is a Missouri born lad and the sold-out crowd at the Sheldon Arts Center here in St. Louis welcomed him enthusiastically.

Pat came out on stage alone and performed on his 42-string Pikasso guitar. His individual artistry was incredible—a word I used constantly throughout the night. Then his group joined him and didn’t stop playing for the next 2 ½ hours. It was an incredible evening. His group consists of Antono Sanchez (his drummer for the past ten tears), bassist Linda Oh and pianist Gwilym Simcock. Antonio, you probably know, was the composer of and drummer for, the film score for “Birdman” which awarded an Oscar for Best Picture. Linda is from Malaysia/Australia and Gwilym from the UK. It was an international, all-star quartet, with each musician given plenty of space to solo and share their artistry.

The band played a full hour before a single word was spoken, seguing from one number to the next after a round of appreciative applause. Pat began every song and it soon became evident that the band was eager and ready to jump in, even though they weren’t sure what he was going to play next. They were tight yet spontaneous, passionate in their intensity, yet constantly connected with us the audience. The smile on Pat’s face was evident throughout the evening.

Last night’s concert was one of the most creative and inspiring performances that I’ve ever attended—a blending of old and new music that typified Pat’s quote that jazz is a verb, not a noun. It’s not a thing, rather a process, a free-flowing, ever-evolving encounter with the spirit of the musicians, and I would add: an encounter with the Spirit. No, this was not presented with any religious or spiritual intent (at least to my knowledge). And yet, if you believe as I do that jazz can be a deeply sacred experience, then Pat’s quartet constantly lifted us to new heights, filling the audience with an exuberance and joy that resonated in the soul.

Jazz, as a verb, moves the musicians through the creative terrain of invention, inspiring each other and catapulting the audience to a new level of experiencing their own inner landscape. Exactly what happens when jazz is the music for worship. So, I suppose I did a lot of worshipping last night. No liturgy, but plenty of Spirit.

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Jazz for the Journey: National Symposium on Jazz and the Church

jj2-logo-2BIG NEWS! The second edition of Jazz for the Journey—a national jazz symposium about jazz in the church is scheduled for later this fall. The previous gathering was held in Cleveland three years ago with about fifty people from around the country in attendance. It was a great three days exploring jazz possibilities in the worship and ministry of the church—filled with keynotes, performances, workshops, creative connections and a concert featuring many of the event participants.

This follow up symposium promises to be even greater. We’ve expanded the schedule to include creative interpretations by storyteller Valerie Tutson and jazz vocalist Amanda Powell. Geoffrey Black, former UCC General Minister and President is both the keynote speaker and co-producer of the event. We’ll also emphasize the many jazz ministries that have burst upon the scene in recent years by allowing a time for sharing and interaction. The music of the Oîkos Ensemble (vocalists Kim Fuller and Arianna Aerie, trumpeter Tim Osiek, pianist Carolbeth True, bassist Glenn Smith, drummer Kevin Gianino, and yours truly on sax) will be the house band. Once again, we’ll expand the band to include conference attendees in an evening concert open to the public.

Our workshops will include:

  1. Developing Repertoire for Jazz Worship—Tim Osiek
  2. The Art of Choreographing Jazz Worship—Cliff Aerie
  3. Singing the Truth of the Gospel—Branice McKenzie
  4. Improvisation: the Language of the Soul—Chris Bakriges
  5. Arranging Hymns for Jazz Worship—John Dorhauer, Jr.
  6. The Hip Hop in Jazz—Geoffrey Black and Ben Sanders

For more information and to register please visit Hope to see you in St. Louis in November.