The Gospel and Jazz


When I think of the creation of great music, my mind naturally goes to jazz. I’m not a jazz musician but I appreciate it for what it is and what it represents. I wish that I had taken the time to really pursue learning how to play jazz guitar when I was younger. In my opinion it is the height of musical creativity and genius not just because I like it but because it points to something much more profound.

Don Miller in one of my favorite books, Blue Like Jazz wrote, “I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn’t resolve. But I was outside the Bagdad Theater in Portland one night when I saw a man playing the saxophone. I stood there for fifteen minutes, and  he never opened his eyes. After that I like jazz music. Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way. I used to not like God because God didn’t resolve…”

I was speaking to someone else about the complexity of jazz music and in addition to Miller’s comment on the lack of resolve, he said what makes it wonderful is that it is layered in such a way that it creates dissonance. You know what dissonance is, right? It’s that feeling when you hear a chord and wonder if they played the wrong notes. But the chord structure causes you to shiver, maybe bristle a bit because it’s not the kind of chord that makes you feel nice inside. It’s similar to the effect a minor chord has in creating mood but it’s even better because it takes a chord that should resolve and layers one or two more notes to give it a much more complex feel.

Jazz speaks to our soul in at least a few ways. The first is pretty obvious (at least to me). I don’t care how much people talk about human beings being purely physical and that everything we do is the result of neuro-chemical reactions inside our brain. Sorry. Jazz music is just too complex to even think that it’s something purely physical. When you listen to musicians like Count Basie, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderley, Wes Montgomery or Brad Mehldau, you don’t think, “My, what a wonderful brain he has!”. You think, that is a window into his soul… If anything points to the immaterial person, it’s jazz music! If you doubt me, I have always been struck by the liner notes of Coltrane’s A Supreme Love. Read them…

But secondly, it points to a God who is not easily categorizable (is that a word?). He is the God who creates holy dissonance in our lives by adding notes that sometimes don’t feel like that fit harmoniously. He is a God that gives us this holy sense that much of life doesn’t resolve… at least for the here and now. Why does He do this? My suspicion is that the dissonance of this life is to lead us to the longing to be consonant with Him eternally. The lack of resolution in this life is to lead us to the deep resolution we will experience when we see Him face to face.

So the next time you listen to jazz (and not what’s called “smooth jazz”), listen to someone love something in order for you to love someone greater yourself.

2 thoughts on “The Gospel and Jazz

  1. “holy dissonance”
    Yep. that pretty much nails it. Loving my life and hating it, too.
    Simultaneous longing, sadness, comfort and joy — knowing I am not where I’m supposed to be; not yet HOW God created me to be (Holy); comfort knowing He’s done all the heavy lifting; and joy knowing “this” all has purpose – for His Glory!
    (BTW… Charlie Parker. I listen to him and my mind is blown wide open.)

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