Welcome to Jesus Jazz!
Why Jesus Jazz?
There are unique features of jazz that set it apart from other genres of music. Music transforms. It engages the listener. As true as that is of all music, jazz is distinctive. It is dynamic and interactive. You will hear the same song, but you will never hear that song the same.
For example, we’ve all heard Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, or Pachelbel’s Canon in D (whether we know the name of the song or not). We know what song it is because the notes are carefully followed. Move away too far from the notes on the page, and audiences will push back. “That’s not the way the song goes!” someone might complain. The same is true of more contemporary pop, country or even rap songs today. Musicians offer the song the way it is written, even if with their own artistic take. In a sense, the music is powerful and moves us because it remains the same. It is engaging, but static.
Jazz is different. Jazz, by its very definition, is interactive on different levels simultaneously. It is interactive between the musician and the music. It is interactive between the musicians while playing. It is interactive between the musician(s) and the audience. The notes on the page create a framework within which the musician interacts. The progression of notes creates a space, like a room where the musician can move. Unlike other genres where the music must be followed as written, in jazz, there is room for creative interaction. As Captain Jack Sparrow famously said in the Pirates of Caribbean movie, “the code is more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules.” The music gives definition, but the spirit of it gives freedom for playful, honest interaction.
First, jazz is interactive between the artist and the music. How a jazz musician feels in the moment will affect how they interact and perform the song. That is unique to jazz. It creates a raw honesty that comes out through the music. One way that’s experienced is through syncopation and rhythmic choices by the artists. Secondly, jazz is interactive between musicians. Unique to jazz are the gifts of improvisation and call and response. Unlike other genres, every song becomes its own because of the unique moment the interaction of artists creates. Lastly, jazz is unique because there is an intentional interaction between the musician(s) and the audience. How an artist performs the song engages the audience. How the audience responds, affects the artist. It becomes a musical conversation that involves everyone. In that way, jazz requires relationship and engagement.
I sometimes hear people say they don’t really like jazz. When asked why, they often say it isn’t relaxing like other forms. Jazz requires something of us. Unlike other genres where we can just listen as an auditory spectator, jazz invites us into a dynamic conversation between the musician and the audience. You might hear the same song (and know what it is), but the song is rarely the same, and neither are we.
Jazz is a refreshing paradigm for life and faith. Faith is not static religion, where we can pick the “genre” we like most with passive pleasantries and attendance. Faith is our dynamic interactive engagement with God, the Artist of creation, life and all that exists. Jesus uniquely makes it possible because he entered into the reality of our life. His life, death and resurrection are the ultimate expressions of dynamic engagement and love. Faith is the call and response of our relational engagement with God and one another that we were created for. God is love.
Many today try avoid this kind of faith that engages the truth of who we are with the truth of who God is. Some do it by reducing the Christian gospel (and the Bible) to rules and lists. They evaluate themselves and others by how well we follow the notes on the page. Others, however, throw out the music all together, minimize the importance of the composer’s work or institutionalize it through rote religious motions. Either way, they are attempts to control the music by letting it play in the background without genuine engagement.
Jesus shows us what this “jazz” life is all about. He lived the music with dynamic engagement. He never strayed from the notes on the page, but continually offered new expressions of syncopation, improvisation and, call and response. His life was played out like a song in front of those who were strict note followers, raising angst and curiosity. Yet it was also played out in front of those who had rejected the notes all together, attracting them by the stunning music his life offered. Jesus offered to both, “I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). The Spirit offers freedom for joyful, honest interaction.
Jesus’ invitation, and, because of it, that of this blog, is to dynamic, interactive, relational “jazz” lives of faith.