Match the pictures on the right with the shows mentioned on the left HEADS UP Section!
Some jazz historians like to make you think that jazz originated in the brothels and speakeasy joints on the wrong side of the tracks. Well, that may be part of the story, but the church had as much if not more influence than the seedier part of town. Any time you hear a song with a call and response, that comes from the days when a preacher would make a point and the congregation would shout back an “Amen.” The whole idea of someone testifying eventually worked its way into a jazz song with a soloist “telling his story,” and if you’ve ever heard a tenor sax work with a Hammond B3, well that came from the good old fashioned church picnic.
Ray Charles made a living out of taking church songs he grew up with and turning them into R&B hits. “Hallelujah, I Love Her So” originally caused a big stir back in the 50s because Charles changed the lyrics to a famous spiritual. Likewise, we all know Elvis Presley’s “Good Rockin’ Tonight” but that is also a rip from a church tune called “Have You Heard the News?” so there is nothing new under the sun, as Solomon wrote.
Charles Mingus’ most famous material was lifted from the Pentecostal Holiness Church-think “Gonna Git It In Your Soul” for instance, and the whole hard bop movement was derived from the gospel beat that worked its way into Rudy Van Gelders studio. Art Blakey’s “Moanin’” or Cannonball Adderley’s “Mercy Mercy Mercy” are just two quick samples to get you started.
Of course, you don’t have to be a Holy Roller to get into the jazz scene. Duke Ellington did a trio of Sacred Concerts that were fairly formal affairs, while the vocal harmonies of Arvo Part have been highly influential to modern arrangers. And, don’t forget that Jewish Klezmer and Cantoral music was a MAJOR influence on the Swing (or should I say “Schwing”) Era. Ziggy Elman’s horn on “And the Angels Sing” is something you’d hear at a thousand Bar Mitzvahs.
So, does that mean in order to appreciate jazz, you need to go to church ( or temple)? Well, as they say, “It couldn’t hurt!” Lots of churches have Jazz Vespers,and guys like Bill Cunliffe , Russell Ferrante and John Proulz compose, arrange and perform music for their respective congregations. You could do a lot worse for yourself on a Sunday morning or evening than go to a service, take in the music and learn something from a preacher delivering God’s message. The music may be contemplative or expressively extroverted, meditative or made to get you on your feet and hands raised. I grew up in the Greek Orthodox church, and the vocal harmonies there are one of the wonders of the world.
I’ve listed in the No One Asked section a sampler of gospel/religious albums that are guaranteed to appeal to any jazz fan. In fact, my attraction to 50s Black Gospel came from my Jewish agnostic best friend, who eventually had the Holy Spirit come to him on his death bed. You never know what this music can do for you. As St. Augustine said many years ago,”Lord, You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest with Thee.” Broaden your horizons, do your soul a favor and feed it once a week with word and song. Get into the REAL songbook and see what happens!