My family, like all Americans (with the exception of native folk), were immigrants. In the 1920’s we came to Chicago via Ellis Island - and very few of us have had the audacity to leave. Even when those of us left, the city still coursed through our veins, and our hearts would beat with a certain familiar cadence that could not quite be replaced by any other city or place. For me, that cadence has a certain rhythm to it, a certain jazzy beat.
To me, Chicago is synonymous with Jazz...and I’m not talking about Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly (see the musical Chicago for the reference) whose cautionary tale of murderous women and a desire to be Vaudeville stars tells us to stay away from “jazz and liquor.” Living on the Southside we were surrounded by the historic bars of the 1920’s Chicago jazz and blues scene. Most people I know, including myself, have some connection to someone that played in a club or on stage. Sometimes, in the quiet of the night, you can hear the ghosts of decades past still playing and singing and the clinking of glasses from prohibition era speakeasies as people laugh and talk. Jazz carries a spirit of something more than just music. Like the Holy Spirit it seems to have an essence of life to it - like the Spirit of God hovering over the deep (Genesis 1:2) - the spirit of this distinct American genre hovered over the city.
New Orleans was the birthplace of Jazz - it was born there - and is truly an American creation. It has this blending of cultures that speak to a world of creativity and improvisation, it speaks of liberation, forbearance, and freedom. And as it made its way up the river to Chicago it picked up on the culture and communities it encountered...it became a living and breathing commentary on the human condition in America. Like the Holy Spirit, it lived and moved and enlivened hearts to hear and see the world around it. It cried out in pain for the poor and oppressed - it experienced and participated in segregation - but yet it broke through with a loud voice for freedom.
My first experience with Jazz was at Jazz Fest in Grant Park, and without a doubt I felt the Holy Spirit dancing to the rhythm. So much of the music is improvisation, the ability to feed off the others in the group, to feel the beat and to expose one’s soul through notes and runs and rhythm. Watching a truly gifted artist you can see the spirit of the music flowing through their body - and I can’t help but see the Holy Spirit moving through the world in such a way. Unpredictable yet beautiful. Surprising yet comforting. Slyly drawing our attention to what is happening around us and inviting us into the moment. To be caught up in the Spirit is just like being caught up in a good beat. It moves you without inhibition.
Our last concert in the Inaugural Season of Concerts at St. Stephen’s is a Jazz concert. I do not know what to expect, but that is part of the experience. I hope that you are able to join us on Friday at 7:30 pm. This closing concert is going to be the start of our fundraising campaign for the music program in 2019/2020 that includes the quartet of student singers and additional concerts throughout the year. Please consider joining me or making a gift to the program (You can donate online here or fill out a sponsor card here). We not only support students, but we support local artists and educators.
I hope that you find a moment to think about what sort of music moves you...what sort of music brings you closer to God. If you are willing to share with us what genres of music move you, perhaps we can find a way to work them into the coming seasons as we prepare to say goodbye to 2018/2019 and hello to 2019/2020!
Yours in Christ,