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Jazz Music Is Ecstatic Language

By Published: December 7, 2012
There are many examples in the history of jazz that document the ecstatic nature and its effects. New Orleans old-timer Jim Robinson once shared how it used to flow on the bandstand on certain nights: "If everyone is frisky, the spirit gets to me and I can make my trombone sing!" Singer Ethel Waters
Ethel Waters
Ethel Waters
1896 - 1977
vocalist
testified that certain stride pianists, "stirred you into joy and wild ecstasy." Drummer Billy Higgins
Billy Higgins
Billy Higgins
1936 - 2001
drums
once said, "Music doesn't come from you, it goes through you." The audiences that have attended these concerts have been equally touched by the ecstatic, as untold millions have described being touched in an extraordinary way when listening to jazz.

Trombonist Bob Brookmeyer
Bob Brookmeyer
Bob Brookmeyer
1929 - 2011
trombone
once claimed that no form of music is as intense emotionally as jazz music. And when it is played in a "spirited" fashion, it can stimulate feelings of exultation and affirmation. This is communication between the artist and the audience on the highest possible level. John Coltrane once said, "It seems to me that the audience, in listening, is in an act of participation. And when somebody is a moved as you are, it's just like having another member of the group."

Pianist/psychiatrist Denny Zeitlin
Denny Zeitlin
Denny Zeitlin
b.1938
piano
once shared that "I think the need to communicate, the need to be a part of something greater than oneself, the need to be able perhaps to reach some eternal immutable values in the universe that we experience as often chaotic and full of change. There is, to me, an absolutely transcendent quality about getting into jazz playing, when it's happening, that is so magical and so totally non-verbal that I don't have any words to describe it. But it is so exhilarating and so ecstatic, I think, in the true meaning of that word, where you get beyond yourself, and you lose the positional boundaries of who you are and you become merged with this marvelous experience. I think players have a hunger for that. If you've tasted that, you wanna get more of it. And it has a lure, and there's the hope that every time you get into that space, that somewhere around the corner, some new aspect of yourself—of your music, of everything that, intellectually and emotionally, you've ever been involved with, with music—will somehow get a chance just to happen...and I think there's a tremendous lure for us as players."

The great religious leader of the Reformation, Martin Luther, once expressed the following profound words: "we marvel when we hear music in which one voice sings [plays] a simple melody, while three, four or five other 'voices' play and trip lustily around the voice...and adorn this simple melody wonderfully with artistic musical effects, thus reminding us of a heavenly dance, where all meet in a spirit of friendliness, caress and embrace." Yes, perhaps, a heavenly dance that's intense and playful at the same time. It's a great high that's outside the norm of the mundane.

The fact is that countless millions have, over the course of history encountered deep spiritual experiences while either playing or listening to music. Indeed, the entire musical/creative process can be considered deeply spiritual. However, one important point to keep in mind is that music isn't very effective at all ushering in an "ecstatic moment" when listened to as primarily just playing in the background. It involves total concentration and participation. Unfortunately, it seems like that our present day culture hasn't the capacity for careful, intense listening to music by itself, without conversation or distraction. Jazz music is a wonderful gift, a mysterious improvisational spiritual language that beckons one beyond normal consciousness into the present moment; it is to be enjoyed and savored. So go ahead—get "jiggy" with it, because it "Tain't no sin to step out of your skin and dance around in your bones!"


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