“Sing to the Lord a new song!” That phrase repeats itself in Scripture from Isaiah to Revelation. This Sunday we’ll do precisely that with our jazz-themed worship. This is how we invite God’s Spirit to swoop, touch, and bless us in stirring ways.
This is the last Sunday before Lent. Just as the rich diet of Shrove (Fat) Tuesday fortifies us for the lean days of Lent, our musical diet will bountifully spread out. But not just music. A Mardi Gras feast of New Orleans cuisine follows courtesy of our Deacons serving up that repast. This unfolds afterward in our Parish Hall.
Let me share this story from Dr. Marcia Sietstra, whose work bridging jazz and gospel has informed my planning for Sunday. She tells of a family member who is a jazz drummer. His name is Christian and he played in a jazz ensemble from Augustana College. This band was in a trip abroad to China some years before.
The band had stopped for the night in an obscure Chinese town called Wuhan. By now, the whole world knows where Wuhan is. Anyway, a small group of jazz students took a walk to explore the area around their hotel. The town was dreary.
Not much was happening—a few restaurants, a couple street vendors, not much else. Then they discovered a tiny jazz bar. Think of it: our one true American art form burrowed into continents of wildly differing cultures halfway across the world.
The club had few tables along with a small stage with a drum kit, a bass, and a guitar. The owner didn’t speak English and the students didn’t know Mandarin. But by using gestures, the students convinced the owner to let them play on his stage. By the time it was over, the owner invited them back to play the next night.
The next night the jazz club’s band played. They were first, then the Augustana players had a turn. After a couple of charts, the students motioned the Chinese band back onstage so they could all play together. In the middle of the next tune, drummer Christian had an idea. He wanted to try something jazz musicians call “trading fours,” where the musicians trade four measure solos with the drummer.
But Christian couldn’t speak Mandarin, so he raised four fingers in the air. He waited to see what would happen. “The second I put my hand up,” he said, “all the musicians gave a reassuring nod and they all started to trade four measures of solos. It was one of the most exciting performances I’ve ever been a part of!
Jazz not only creates conversations that transcend the gaps keeping us apart. Jazz is based on conversations known as “call and response.” That is where one group sings to another, and that group will answer, nuancing their own response.
Come, worship with us on Sunday, to enter the conversation, to sing a new song!