Never in a million years would the average person equate Eddie Harris’ “Listen Here” with Easter. It’s not religious, liturgical or Spiritual. But it’s full of energy. It’s out of the 60’s era when jazz was bending toward rock, fusion, electronics – just about anything to be heard amid the noisy music of the day. Less and less people were listening to “cool” jazz and turning to the British invasion: The Beatles, Rolling Stones and their American offspring.
“Listen Here?” Is this a great composition? No. Is the musicianship virtuosic? No. Is the theme deeply existential? No. Is it party time. Yes!
When I was pondering what song I would include for this Easter blog I tried to recall those times in my life when I was jumping with joy, filled with the enthusiasm of the spirit, dancing even during the tough times. Believe it or not, this reminded me of house cleaning – when I was home alone, tidying up the house and was looking for inspiration during the tedium of dusting, sweeping, vacuuming, washing, etc. What would I do? Put “Listen Here” on the stereo and turn up the volume to stun! Then I would dance through cleaning the house and end up feelin’ good.
So, veering away from all the jazz masters and the deep music of Lent, I offer up Eddie Harris and his electric sax on “Listen Here.” Give it a listen and dance in the Spirit of Easter.
Wild Easter Blessings!
With Palm Sunday now behind us, Holy Week moves into Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. My song selection this week is the old African-American Spiritual, “Steal Away,” performed by two great jazz legends, pianist Hank Jones and bassist Charlie Haden. Both deeply spiritual people and phenomenal musicians their careers have spanned the decades.
“Steal Away” was nominated for a Grammy in 1996. Both Hank (2010) and Charlie (2014) have since passed but their music lives on. I invite you to give a listen to “Steal Away” and feel the presence of the deep abiding Spirit. It’s a perfect song to have playing in your head as you go through the next few days.
If you’re in the St. Louis area this Friday you are invited to attend Good Friday Blues: A Jazz Lamentation, at First Congregational Church, UCC in Webster Groves. The Oîkos Ensemble will be performing some classic jazz blues standards by John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, plus the Billie Holiday classic, “Strange Fruit. We’ll retell the passion story through choral reading. Rev. Geoffrey Black (retired General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ) will offer a poetic reading from the long, lost journal of the mysterious Gospel writer, Mark. I hope you’ll steal away and join us this Friday.
Holy Week Jazz Blessings.
Looking back through the past five entries it’s “interesting” to see the music that has come into my meditation life—“Spiritual” (Trane), “Prayer” (Jarrett), “Aung San Suu Kui” (Shorter), “Alabama” (Trane again), and “Strange Fruit” by Billie Holiday. And now for something completely different: The 23rd Psalm by Bobby McFerrin.
Bobby is one of the great vocal improvisers of all time. His body and voice are his instrument, and his imaginative mind is the creative force that propels his artistry. I had the opportunity (blessing, really) to perform with Bobby once and it is a musically spiritual event I shall never forget.
His vocal improvisation on Psalm 23 is effortless, and his switching of pronouns to the feminine is a theological work of art. Bobby grew up in the Episcopal Church and was deeply influenced by the music, particularly the chants. He dedicates this arrangement to his Mother. In an interview with Krista Tippett on her show, On Being, he says that he wrote the song in a the feminine because he “wanted to remind people that for a lot of people . . . when they think of their fathers, some of them might not have had great relationships with their dads. And . . . some of them don’t have great relationships with their mothers. But sometimes we forget the feminine element in religious service. And I just wanted to bring that out.”
And the feminine imagery of God brings beauty and depth not only to music but to a theological understanding of who we are as children of God. If you haven’t heard it there are many, many versions on You Tube—his original version and countless performances by choral groups and soloists. Take a few moment and listen to anyone of these performances and be filled with a genuine sense of grace and peace. It’s a perfect song for this Lenten season.
Lenten Jazz Blessings.