The Jazz Theologian

The Jazz Theologian

Kind of Blue (part 4–in conclusion)

"The parallels between the lives of African-Americans battling for their freedom as citizens and that of jazz musicians for their freedom from European harmony are too close to be mere happenstance."

Jazz icon, Miles Davis, used to play with his back to the audience. To whites it was offensive. To blacks it was empowering. If a mere negro musician would dare turn his backs on whites in a racist society, then what else was possible? Same drinking fountains, no more lynchings, same schools…voting?


"Harmonic complexity [had become] a hallmark of modern jazz." And "the use of harmonic structure had special, extramusical significance in jazz: it was the aspect of the music that was most deeply rooted in Europe…the use of chords comes out of the European harmonic system. And jazzmen were very aware of this."

Kind of Blue was a breaking away from European musical standards. After seeing a dance troup from Africa and listening with amazement to the beats of the drummers, Miles emerged. He broke from European chord progressions as the best way to play jazz and went with a modal approach, based upon scales. And in a a 2 day recoding session with some of jazz's greats, Kind Of Blue was recorded. And jazz has never been the same. "it was voted one of the ten bet albums of all time–in any genre–and it is the only jazz album ever to reach double-platinum status….it is also a watershed in the history of jazz, a signpost pointed to the tumultuous changes that would dominate this music and society itself in the decade ahead."


There was another reason why he played with his back to his primarily white audiences. In his autobiography he says that by turning and facing the band, he could listen better, read their cues and ultimately produce a better musical experience for the audience. Miles converged.

How amazing is that! Inspite of his disdain for those who wouldn't even use the same restroom with him, he also sought to give them a gift.

(Quotations above are from Eric Nisenson's fine book, "The Making of Kind of Blue)

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emerging mosaic

posted February 19, 2006 at 7:39 pm

This is great stuff. Your thoughts on the convergence of theology and jazz are inspiring and thought provoking keep it coming

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posted February 20, 2006 at 4:34 am

Greatly written! Your view of comparing “breaking free from European Harmony” and “breaking free from Racial Discrimination” is totally unique and beautiful.

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posted February 20, 2006 at 8:42 am

JT… Just a vague thought… but how about Emerge to Converge to Create a Jazz-like Solidarity? From there other Soldarities of instructional Art & Spiritual fertility either Emerge by Jazz provocation or, if prior to, Converge with Jazz-like evocation, until Ensembles of such Solidarities approach a Christ-like spontaneity? That kind of freedom born from the intense discipline, the obsessive devotion, the creative charity & the selfless love of the Ensemble. A “We” with a profound effort to sustain the many would-be musicians who might contribute to the ongoing creation of a “Love Supreme”.

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Ryan Van Scoyk

posted September 3, 2007 at 10:29 pm

In response to the closing question, emerging isn’t enough. Miles Davis didn’t reject the trend of front-facing and crowd-pleasing music simply because he wanted a change. He had an inspiration, in this case that he would be able to give the audience a better final product if he faced his musicians rather than his audience. That is the difference between music that is unique and artistic, and music that is simply obnoxious. The former is founded on authentic inspiration, the latter on an empty urge to be original. Miles Davis’ music was successful (eventually anyway) because he didn’t completely disregard all convention. Despite the scarcity of chord changes in his modal music, he was still able to craft the melodic lines in his solos in order to give them the same harmonic direction as more traditional pieces; thus stems the genius of Miles’ convergence. I think of theology in the same way. A new way of thinking about Christ can’t come from just an empty desire to do something unique. It has to stem from a deep need or an inspiried conversation with Him. It therefore doesn’t completely buck tradition, but simply changes the path to reach the same goal. That’s just my thought on things.
P.S. I’d also like to comment on the irony that there is a very good jazz band in Denver called Convergence. :)

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Tim ( Pastor Les's middle son, Frued have mercy!!!)

posted September 4, 2007 at 7:22 am

Hod did you get inside my head? And you’d better keep quiet about some of what you saw there!
Seriously…you’ve put words to the feelings I’ve been struggling with regarding this thread. Jazz theology can be helpful…to those us of who like and have something of an understanding of jazz music, but what about my father-in-law, an 80 year old cattle rancher in a VERY remote part of eastern Kansas, a man with a fierce love of God Almighty, but who thinks of jazz music as “music that has horns in it”.
Convergence is whats needed. Various ethnic groups have come to this country and CONVERGED with this culture, while not discarding their own. Ever read about the plight of the first Irish to come to this country? They used to find them murdered in the ditches with grass stuffed into their mouths. Even, as a society, they CONVERGED with American society and were eventually accepted. Recent Asian immigrants seem to be doing the same and are succeeding. I’m not suggesting that the Irish-American experience or the Asian-American experience compares to the African-American experience. The differences are stark and real. but think about this…if I wanted a job as a DJ in a down town hip-hop club, looking the way I look (white, middle-aged, mainstream) do you think I’d get the job? Of course not. I’d have to CONVERGE with that particular slice of culture regardless of my skill or talent. Even then…my race would most likely preclude my success. And I doubt the ACLU would be interested in the least.
Jazz theology is fine. I enjoy the jazz shaped theology that Pastor Robert shared with us through the Wed night series immensly.
Living orthodoxy is another form of theology that attempts to do the same thing as jazz-theology…explain to people at large the great love that God the Father has for His creation and further, to explain what He has done on our behalf to provide reconciliation to Himself in spite of our greivious rebellion toward Him. I myself feel a need to CONVERGE with people of color, in order to more adaquatly understand the human race as a whole. Not just because it’s interesting for me to explore, but so that I can exhibit Gods love and the work of Christ crucified to people who don’t share my world view. I guess you could say I have an “Urge to Converge”!
Robert, feel free to use that as the title for a sermon series if you’d like. Just contact my agent first.

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posted September 9, 2007 at 6:56 pm

I saw Miles Davis in a tiny club somewhere in Massachusetts in the late ’80s or early ’90s. He turned his back on the audience for nearly the entire show. I didn’t understand it! Now I do.

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posted September 11, 2007 at 5:03 pm

By the 90’s I think that Miles was just being mean! He was a rather eccentric fellow.
Thanks for stopping by,

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