Calum Cille wrote:Jazz is not native to Europe and the question is therefore whether or not it can be judged as an ethnic tradition and an ethnic tradition in the British Isles or as using instruments adaptable to sacred use or as in some way growing organically from pre-existing forms of sacred music or as a new artistic expression of the faith.
Hmm… If you think of the spiritual home of Jazz as New Orleans - and many do - then you should recall that Lousiana differed to the other early American colonies: it was French-speaking and Catholic. New Orleans was a very multi- and intercultural mix: in the 1700s, West Africans were a large group, but so were the French and after the Lousiana Purchase, English-speaking people poured in, to be joined by German, Italian and Irish immigrants in the 1800s. There were no ethnic ghettos - they lived in a mixed society and exchanged musical ideas. Eventually, this gave rise to Jazz. To say it is not native to Europe only gives a small part of the picture: New Orleans was full of Europeans and Africans together and the music grew from that in particular among the creole, mixed-race groups. When the Jazz musicians started leaving New Orleans to play in New York and Chicago, many also travelled to France and England - Sidney Bechet was playing in Paris in 1919 and the Original Dixieland Jazz Band performed in the UK in the same year. The music was welcomed wholeheartedly. Sidney Bechet said, of music: "You gotta mean it, and you gotta treat it gentle".
One of the things that we should not forget about New Orleans after the American Civil War is that mutual aid and benevolent societies were common which were important for emancipated African-Americans who had limited economic resources. The purposes of such societies were to "help the sick and bury the dead", important functions, because blacks were generally prohibited from getting commercial health and life insurance and other services. The New Orleans bands had a special relationship with the mutual aid societies which had their own expressive approach to funeral processions and parades, which continues to the present. Jazz here is intrinsically woven to the fabric of the Church caring for the sick, the dying and those passing on. It is not alien to a Christian culture, though it might be alien to your parish.
Consider at the way that Jazz uses the modes. If you have never looked at the ABRSM Jazz syllabus to see the scales that Jazz exams require, do so: Grade 3 Clarinet Jazz means that my pupils need not only to play Major and Minor scales but also Dorian, Mixolydian and Lydian modes, Major and Minor Pentatonics and a Blues Scale and not only detached or legato but, at the examiner's discretion, straight or swung. But hang on - aren't the modes just exactly those that the Church has used for centuries in the Chant? Yes. Is the Chant held up as a model of music for the Liturgy? Yes. Perhaps rather than just dismissing Jazz as unsuitable, or not our culture and therefore alien, we should embrace it as being very close to the model!
From personal experience, I wrote a Blues Scale set of Eucharistic Acclamations some time back, scored for Piano, Bass, clarinets and violin. It's unashamed use of the unsettling mixture of the fourth, flattened fifth and fifth in the melody and the ninths, elevenths and thirteenths in the harmony did not put off the assembly. Indeed, one parishioner, who normally scuttled off after communion, stayed one week to tell me how the music reminded him of going to hear Big Bands at the Town Hall in his youth and how great it was to hear it again and in Church. On that Sunday, it had helped him to pray, which is all we should ask of any piece. We also use many of my other pieces that have more than a passing nod to a Jazz interest without offending the assembly here.
Writing pieces in the modes is very interesting and allows motifs from many Chants to be incorporated: the song may be new, but it doesn't dismiss the tradition of the Church only builds on it. Playing pieces where you are expected to improvise - as HallamPhil has told us of his Congolese singer - means that improvisation can become completely natural and is a great skill to encourage in your players. I don't mean time-filling twiddles on an organ (important and exciting and meditiative/thought-provoking though that can be) but something that grows from the music - a reply to a congrational line in a song, perhaps. Some people talk of being filled with the spirit when they improvise - not necessarily the Holy Spirit, but I am fairly sure that the Holy Spirit can improvise! Jazz can be in your face, loud, unstructured, but it doesn't need to be. Can it work in a Roman Rite liturgy? Yes. Is it suitable everywhere? No. Ultimately, as with any piece, any style of music, judgement of its immediate suitability comes down to the musician knowing the assembly, praying with them and allowing the Holy Spirit to guide.