The Jazz Theologian

One of my favorite definitions of what jazz is comes from "Ken Burns’ PBS Documentary "Jazz."

If you have not seen this, it is worth saving up your pennies to purchase.  You’ll find a treasure trove of interviews, music, images and stories.  I think I like it so much because it presents a view of jazz that is heavily influenced by Ralph Ellison and Wynton Marsalis.


Burns presents a definition of jazz that gets to the core of the importance of race.

"Jazz offers the explosive hypothesis that those who have had the peculiar experience of being unfree in a free land might actually be at the center of our history."

While there are parts of this definition that are arguable, focus in on the tension.  Race created a group of people, a new tribe of people who had one basic thing in common, they were "unfree in a free land" all because of this thing call race.  That created the conditions that gave rise to the genesis of jazz.  This base tension of being unfree in the midst of freedom gave rise to the yearnings and aspirations that make jazz what it is.  It gave birth to blues and blues gave birth to this music of freedom within boundaries.  Improvisation within constraints of the song and ensemble.  It mimicked America.

A jazz shaped faith will embrace these same conditions.  The reason why it is so important to understand race in the inception of jazz is because race gave rise to one of the essential conditions that makes jazz possible–creative tension. 

A jazz theology will be an approach to the Christian faith that is ripe not in "either/or" but in "both/and."

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