Last night I was talking with a childhood friend of my wife who was spending the night with us, and she made an interesting comment. She is pastor of a Disciples of Christ church in Missouri (and has been for a number of years) and she stated that seminaries get a bum rap about how they train their ministers, not preparing them for life outside the hallowed walls of theological academia. She heard a man speak once, I can’t remember who he was, and he said that seminaries (using a music analogy) can teach these minister wannabes all the right notes and melodies and compositions, but they can’t teach them to play Jazz.

I personally loved that analogy. Even though I am NOT a musician, I enjoy Jazz. If you’ve never listened to a really good Jazz trio or quartet (I heard my first live Jazz trio in a club at Underground Atlanta), it’s difficult for you to understand what he’s talking about. But basically Jazz is about improvisation. I read where Jazz improvisation is “the process of spontaneously creating fresh melodies over the continuously repeating cycle of chord changes of a tune.” In other words, the basics of the original tune and chord harmonies remains the same but the music comes out differently because of the improvisation. The Jazz artist finds new ways to say the same things. Duke Ellington said, “You’ve got to find some way of saying it without saying it.” You don’t do away with the composed music, but with Jazz it is combined with improvisation in a unique mixture.

Ministers and Christians can be taught all the right notes and melodies and compositions (Scripture) but if it’s played the Classical way (interpreted and performed based on denominational doctrine and traditions), it will usually result in saying the same thing the same way over and over. But in Jazz, the right notes and melodies and compositions are performed with improvisation creating a melody that is new and interesting. Improvising does not mean creating something out of thin air. Wynton Marsalis said, “In Jazz, improvisation isn’t a matter of just making any ol’ thing up. Jazz, like any language, has its own grammer and vocabulary. There’s no right or wrong, just some choices that are better than others.” With Jazz, you are free to release the unique creative passions within you, thereby creating new works, but based on a solid foundation. And you will never play the same song the same way again. Jazz is individuality.

A Passion for Jazz wrote:

Most genres of music involve the listener into the realm of the completed work as it was scored. Jazz draws the onlooker to a deeper league, that of a partnership so to speak, of being along when each new phrase is created, when each inspired motive is often the interactive result of audience involvement. Jazz music’s dynamic is its “newness” which can be attributed to the defining component – improvisation.

While Classical music may strive to conform the musical tones to orchestral sonorities, Jazz music thrives on instrumental diversities; the player’s individual “sound” becoming the desired proficiency. This is where the passion is, a kind found no where else.

Jazz for Jesus. Individual passion. Improvisation.

Sit back with a good glass of wine and let the music just flow over you.

His peace be on you all.