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Jazz Worship 101: Standards in Worship

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Ok!  So you’ve decided that you want to try jazz in worship.  Great!  Now what?

Probably the easiest place to start is by inserting jazz into the “instrumental” music of the worship service – the prelude, offertory, prayer time, postlude, etc.  These are typically portions of the service where the congregation does not participate in the music, eliminating the need to coordinate between them and the musicians.  They are also places where the music is more about “listening,” which makes them perfect places for the congregation to focus on listening to jazz.

But what should we play?  I think this is probably the biggest hurdle that keeps people from trying jazz in worship.  Do jazz musicians know any hymns?  Probably not.  Do church musicians know any jazz tunes that are appropriate for worship?  Probably not.  There is a disconnect here that can be difficult to overcome.  That’s why we are here to help you!

You are most likely bringing in professional jazz musicians from outside your congregation to participate in the worship service, so the best thing would be to pick tunes that they are familiar with.  There are a set of standard jazz tunes that all professional jazz musicians should know – we call these “standards.”  A lot of times standards are show tunes from Broadway shows, popular songs, love songs – not exactly the kind of tunes we want to hear in church.  However, there are a number of “standards” that are appropriate for worship and would be a great starting place for adding jazz into the service.

Below is my list of jazz standards that could be considered for worship.  Obviously, this list is just a starting point – I’m sure there are many other great jazz tunes out there that would be perfect for worship services.  But this list will at least give you a starting place as you look for ideas and coordinate with your jazz musicians.

  • Acknowledgement – John Coltrane
  • Afro Blue – Mongo Santamaria
  • Alabama – John Coltrane
  • All Blues – Miles Davis
  • Blue Bossa – Kenny Dorham
  • Blue Seven – Sonny Rollins
  • A Child Is Born – Thad Jones
  • Come Sunday – Duke Ellington
  • Contemplation – McCoy Tyner
  • Crescent – John Coltrane
  • Dolphin Dance – Herbie Hancock
  • Equinox – John Coltrane
  • Fall – Miles Davis
  • Footprints – Wayne Shorter
  • God Bless the Child – Billie Holliday
  • Gregory is Here – Horace Silver
  • Heaven – Duke Ellington
  • Holy Land – Cedar Walton
  • Impressions – John Coltrane
  • Infant Eyes – Wayne Shorter
  • Inner Urge – Joe Henderson
  • Israel – John Carisi
  • Lament – J. J. Johnson
  • Little One – Herbie Hancock
  • Lonnie’s Lament – John Coltrane
  • Maiden Voyage – Herbie Hancock
  • Mercy, Mercy, Mercy – Joe Zawinul
  • Moanin’ – Bobby Timmons
  • One By One – Wayne Shorter
  • Passion Dance – McCoy Tyner
  • Peace – Horace Silver
  • Peace Piece – Bill Evans
  • Prayer – Keith Jarrett
  • The Preacher – Horace Silver
  • Psalm – John Coltrane
  • Pursuance – John Coltrane
  • Recorda Me – Joe Henderson
  • Red Clay – Freddie Hubbard
  • Resolution – John Coltrane
  • Search for Peace – McCoy Tyner
  • Seven Steps to Heaven – Miles Davis
  • Song for My Father – Horace Silver
  • Speak No Evil – Wayne Shorter
  • Spiritual – John Coltrane
  • Stolen Moments – Oliver Nelson
  • Take Five – Dave Brubeck
  • Tune Up – Miles Davis
  • Wild Flower – Freddie Hubbard
  • Wise One – Herbie Hancock
  • Yes Or No – Wayne Shorter
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