Another Christmas has eased into a new year. Where does the time go? I can’t believe I’ve been so lax in my blogging. Well, yes, I can believe it. It’s been a crazy couple of months. All good—but a whirlwind craziness that’s kept me juggling and dancing non-stop. The big event being was Jazz Noel. This is the sixth year in a row that I’ve led Oîkos in a Christmas jazz program here in St. Louis.
The first four years were an on-going Jazz Nativity series blending jazz with imaginative storytelling. During those programs we’ve had a number of creative characters retell the Christmas story from their point of view—the prophet Isaiah (a homeless woman), the angel Gabriel (a hip trumpeter), the innkeeper’s wife and daughter (cut the innkeeper some slack!), the Fourth Magi (didn’t know she was part of the entourage?), two wacky angels (Holly & Ivy), plus two elders (Anna and Simeon). A wonderful series, but two years ago I decided to cut back the dramatic production and focus on the music. Jazz to the World was a jazzy Christmas celebration with vignettes of holiday traditions from around the globe.
Year after year, after each performance without fail, someone would come up afterwards to thank us and say how much they enjoyed the worship service. Well, it was never planned as a service of worship, but to many it had a worshipful feel and touched a deep spiritual nerve. So this year I decided it was time to compose a liturgical Christmas celebration.
Jazz Noel blended the creative retelling of the Christmas story with three readers highlighting the four chapters of the narrative: Joseph’s dilemma with a pregnant Mary, Mary and Joseph’s arduous trip to Bethlehem, surprised shepherds visiting the manger, and the Magi’s journey to acknowledge the new born king. Each story was accompanied by original poetry and jazz arrangements from the Oîkos septet. And through it all, artist Michael Anderson painted a wonderful portrait focused on the theme of holy light beckoning the world to follow the Prince of Peace. Pastor Dave Denoon offered a Christmas prayer in collaboration with Oîkos playing “A Child is Born” and worshipers had an opportunity to sing creative arrangements of “When God is a Child,” “The First Noel,” and “Joy to the World.” It was not your usual vesper service, but that’s what jazz in worship is all about—taking the usual, giving it a creative spin and inviting worshipers to explore the deep, inner terrain of the soul.
May your jazz journeys in 2017 open up new vistas to challenge and deepen your faith.