The Jazz Theologian

The Magnificat in Jazz

When I picture Mary singing the Magnificat I envision a smoke filled room, clanking glasses and the low hum of conversation that ceases when she begins to sing from her soul.  With the poise of a Billy Holiday, the prophetic pain of a Nina Simone and the voice of Sara Vaughn I hear her bringing forth her song.


The Blessed Virgin a jazz singer?  Yes, I think so. 

For two reasons…the place from which she sings and her improvisational skills.

Take a glance at the song of Mary (Luke 1.46-55) do you feel the groove?

"Soul."  That is the place from which she sings and it is essential for a jazz shaped faith.  What ever you call it, the soul, spirit (v47), gut, heart or inmost being, it is that place where pain and joy blend to create a power that can only come from brokenness and hoped for redemption.


A couple of weeks ago I went to hear a local jazz singer–I was so disappointed.  She has a remarkable voice and a compelling stage presence but she was missing something.  Something intrinsic–soul.  At first, I thought it was because of her youth.  Perhaps she hasn’t lived long enough to gain this vital source of power.  Then I think of Mary, she was young and yet she had it.

God had essentially ruined Mary’s life.  Her dreams of falling in love, getting married, 2.5 children and the white picked fence (all in that order) were gone.  In exchange, she surrenders to what God has for her life.  In the short run, she faces the difficulty of explaining her pregnancy to her parents and fiancee’.  Constant gossip and sideways glances await her.  All of that is compounded by a lifetime’s worth of rooms growing silent as she enters. 

Yet she sings from her soul.  She Rejoices in the midst of her blues.  That’s the stuff, the source material, of and for jazz.

Next we’ll look at her improvisational skills.

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