If you really want to understand the heart and (literally) the soul of jazz, you need to get some gospel discs into your collection. It’s just that simple. PC historians like to state that jazz started in the brothels and fields, but the call and response, solo with background riffs and essence of the blues are all part of the marrow of the church. Not to mention the harmonies that come from liturgies of the Catholic and Orthodox churches.
I’ve made a list here, a bit of a Decalogue Plus a Trinity” so to speak. The music ranges from oldies to material recorded just this year. Now, I didn’t cover music from other religions; not because of prejudice or anything. As you know, Jewish music was a major influence on the Swing Era. In fact, I played in a Klezmer band awhile back. I just wanted to make this recommendation as specific as possible. I’ve been playing some of these discs to get me ready for church on Sunday and let me tell you, they’ll get you hitting the church floor running! If you don’t find something here that hits you deep inside, please email me, and I’ll start praying for you right away.
2) Louis Armstrong-Louis and the Good Book: with arrangements by Sy Oliver and a backing chorus, Louis is utterly convincing in material like “Shadrack, Meeshack and Abednigo.” Glory Be!
3) Duke Ellington-Concert of Sacred Music-Ellington did 3 different ones over his long career, but this one is by far the best, with a gorgeous “Come Sunday” as well as a cooking “In the Beginning…God.” Ellington is in great form here as he sounds like he’s letting out feelings he’s been suppressing his whole life.
4) Grant Green-Feelin’ the Spirit: Blue Note guitarist Grant Green teams up with Herbie Hancock (!) and Billy Higgins for a COOKING session of spirituals. His take of “Joshua Fit The Battle of Jericho” and “Go Down Moses” will get you rolling in the aisles. He did another disc called Sunday Morning, but this one is the service you want to attend
5) Cyrus Chestnut-Blessed Quietness: You can tell that pianist Chestnut performs for his church as he goes solo here and puts the Holy Spirit into traditional hymns.
6) Sister Rosetta Tharpe-The Original Soul Sister; She sang AND played guitar like no one else. On some of the material here, bop drummer Kenny Clarke sits in, but she doesn’t need him to get the rhythm going. She had a hot line to God.
7) Dixie Hummingbirds-Best Of: Known mostly for the vocals on “Loves Me Like A Rock” their velvety harmonies are a hint of heaven, and their uptempos like “In the Morning” will get you to the church on time.
8) Dorothy Love Coates-Get Away Jordon/He’s Calling Me: Her voice carries the essence of the Pentecostal church,and when she sings on “Get Away Jordon,” you’ll put your life and death in perspective.
9) Swan Silvertones-My Rock/Love Lifted Me: The deliver THE definitive version of “How I Got Over” and lead Claude Jeter sounds like he’s speaking in tongues half the time here. You might get healed just by listening to this!
10) Mahalia Jackson-Live at Newport 1958: One of the most famous jazz festivals ever had Ms. Jackson with minimal support and she turned the concert into one of the biggest revivals in jazz history. Her reading of “On My Way” will send shivers up your spine. She sang it because she BELIEVED it, and you can feel the difference.
11) Arvo Part-I Am The True Vine or De Profundus: Croatian Orthodox composer Arvo Part is possibly the most important living composer. Mostly adhering to liturgical music, he creates some of the most sublime worship material you’ll ever run across. These are two of his best, but you can’t go wrong with anything he touches.
12) Stephan Micus-Panagia: Micus does it all here, playing all of the instruments and overdubbing his voice multiple times to create either a Greek Orthodox choir or a solitary pilgrim yearning before God. Some of the most vulnerable worship music you’ll ever come across.
13) Louie Bellson-The Sacred Music of Louie Bellson/Jazz Ballet: Bellson married Pearl Bailey and got his life straightened out before God in the process. This combination of a 14 part orchestra suite and 4 part jazz ballet is a joyful noise to the Lord
BONUS SELECTION Charlie Haden & Hank Jones-Steal Away/Come Sunday: Even if you HATE the God you believe doesn’t exist (and isn’t that most athiests?), you will fall in love with this pair of intimate duets of spirituals and hymns by Charlie Haden and Hank Jones. Jones grew up in the church, and his dad was a deacon, while Haden played in revivals as a kid. You can tell that they are friends to all of these pieces, as they are played with a meditative calm that can only be found in the pews of the local small church. A true hint of heaven.