993

Eric Reed: Sacred Jazz

By

Sign in to view read count
Merging my personal life with my music has become more than merely composing some swing ditty and pasting God's name in the title.
Generally, the idea of "sacred jazz" either brings to mind Duke Ellington's three sacred concerts or causes confusion in the minds of those who are not cognizant of what is "sacred" or "jazz." Is it John Coltrane's A Love Supreme, Mary Lou Williams' Black Christ of the Andes or Ahmad Jamal's After Fajr? In all these cases, yes. In the broad sense of what is "sacred," the common thread that exists among the aforementioned references pays respect to the devotion to a supernatural being, considered to be higher than us. As for jazz, of course, you gotta swing, but so many people want to make jazz so many things. (Really, must we?) My search for clarification in this field was prompted by my recent participation in a jazz series that focused on "The Sacred Side of Jazz," where I demonstrated the connection between jazz and gospel music via hymns, Negro spirituals and the blues.

When you get right down to it, the term "sacred jazz" becomes somewhat redundant because the nascence of jazz is in sacred music! Do you think Jelly Roll Morton (who probably did invent piano jazz) simply stumbled upon "Wild Man Blues" without ever hearing a gospel blues? It's doubtful he could have spent five years in Chicago and not have ever crossed paths with Rev. Thomas Dorsey or Mahalia Jackson. The stamp of "sacred jazz" is actually rather generic, mainly because it covers such a wide array of artistic concepts. As a child, "jazz" and "sacred" had always intersected in my playing: from bluesy treatments of hymns like "Amazing Grace" or "Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior" in my father's Baptist church to Charles Brown's "Merry Christmas, Baby" while entertaining family friends.

For me, there was never a conscious aesthetic separation of gospel and secular music, but I had enough good sense not to subject the congregation to "Meet Me With Your Black Drawers On" during the offering. Thomas Dorsey and Rosetta Tharpe met with much angst from church folks who insisted they perform on "one side of the fence or the other." Fortunately, my parents never vexed me in that area, so I was free to explore and develop my own farrago of diverse musical worlds, leaning towards a sound influenced by musical and personal experiences, biblical teachings, Negro spirituals, the blues, swing and a heavy groove.

My music is influenced by a spiritual foundation (specifically, God's spirit, in this case), which encourages me to remain focused on the reason I was born with the gift He gave me—to praise Him. In addition, I share that love and desire with the audience, with the hope that they can be reeled into my spiritual space, to be entertained and blessed by the experience.

For years, my notion was to learn and perform the 'standard' jazz repertoire, composing songs that sounded like standards and generally to honor the brilliant creators—from Armstrong to Waller—that laid it all out before me, while offering the occasional 'tribute' to my spiritual background. Fortunately (and hopefully for most of us) life changes force us to be wisely flexible; as brilliant artists-to-be, we learn that the music doesn't end with the lessons of our youth. On the contrary, it only begins there, laying the groundwork and leading us down the paths we trod towards the excellence of our more mature years in the arts. Merging my personal life with my music has become more than merely composing some swing ditty and pasting God's name in the title. Boldly and unabashedly, I put my love, honor and thanks to God at the forefront of my music—before the transcribed solos, Hanon exercises, repertoire—even the commitment to swinging.

Many jazz artists encountered a "spiritual awakening" on personal and musical planes later in life: Duke Ellington, Mary Lou Williams, John Coltrane as referenced earlier. For others, the awareness was apparent earlier on: Yusef Lateef, Ahmad Jamal. Even though all don't pay tribute to the same deity, the vibration in the music of an individual genuinely connected to his faith cannot be ignored—even if you don't identify with his spiritual philosophy. There is music for music's sake and then there is music that encompasses a deeper purpose.

Tags

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read The Creative Music Studio Goes To College! Megaphone The Creative Music Studio Goes To College!
by Karl Berger
Published: September 10, 2015
Read Wein, June & Jazz Megaphone Wein, June & Jazz
by AAJ Staff
Published: June 13, 2010
Read Clean Feed Records: Looking Outwards Megaphone Clean Feed Records: Looking Outwards
by Pedro Costa
Published: May 16, 2010
Read Discoveries Along The Pitch Continuum Megaphone Discoveries Along The Pitch Continuum
by Amir ElSaffar
Published: April 11, 2010
Read Either/Or (No More) Megaphone Either/Or (No More)
by Darcy James Argue
Published: February 28, 2010
Read The Power in Music Megaphone The Power in Music
by Steve Colson
Published: February 3, 2010
Read "The Tom & Jamie Show at the College Street Congregational Church" Live Reviews The Tom & Jamie Show at the College Street...
by Doug Collette
Published: March 29, 2017
Read "Kickback City: Deluxe Edition" Book Reviews Kickback City: Deluxe Edition
by Doug Collette
Published: July 24, 2016
Read "Shorty Rogers: Short Stops" Reassessing Shorty Rogers: Short Stops
by Richard J Salvucci
Published: May 22, 2017
Read "Sometimes Jazz Takes Guts" From the Inside Out Sometimes Jazz Takes Guts
by Chris M. Slawecki
Published: February 28, 2017
Read "Wayne Shorter: Speak No Evil – 1964" My Blue Note Obsession Wayne Shorter: Speak No Evil – 1964
by Marc Davis
Published: December 21, 2016
Read "The History of Rock & Roll, Volume 1: 1920-1965" Book Reviews The History of Rock & Roll, Volume 1: 1920-1965
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: February 11, 2017

Smart Advertising!

Musician? Boost your visibility at All About Jazz and drive traffic to your website with our Premium Profile service.