Saturday, September 24, 2005

What is "IT?"

Just the other night I was part of a group. Young and old. Rich and poor. Black, Latino & white. Farmer types and Hip-Hop. I was at a local jazz club. What is IT about jazz that produces this kind of convergence? The band had a latin saxophonist, a young dread-locked brother on stand-up bass, middle-aged white pianist and a middle aged African-American on drums. One song started and the leader motioned for someone in the crowd. An elderly black gentlmen slowly made his way to the stage...His voice was far from perfect, but as this man sang about love, IT was presnent, he had IT, we all wanted IT. And we wept because of IT. IT allows for the hyphens and the hyphen-less to co-exist; for Grandpa & grandson to be together...for unity without uniformity. What is "IT" about jazz that produces this? Have you ever experienced "IT" in a church?


Blogger Pete Gall said...

I was at dinner the other night - on the cobbled Main Street of Zionsville, eating outside under white Christmas lights - and inside a group of young White guys was playing "So What" from "Kind of Blue." From sheet music, exactly as it was written.

As I was reading your description, my first thought was that those sorts of moments come because people choose to treat them carefully - to play by the rules that keep moments of lullaby precious, for example.

That's not enough, though. People eating near us the other night, and people driving by, and people walking around, all made choices to keep the evening nice and well-dressed. They wanted to treat the moment carefully. And while we contributed to the tending of the magic feeling Main Street has at night, the magic happens in conformity - in saying/behaving the right way. We were agreeing to submit to an impersonal dynamic, and we moved quietly, privately, within it.

I think the moments of IT do fall back to listening, as you say. In Zionsville everyone knew - from long practice mostly - exactly how to manage the moment, and it was about managing a moment in which it felt nice to be a consumer...a master of the evening and the wine list. Listening had nothing to do with the evening - and neither did the other people who were out and about...anyone could have been there so long as they played the part well.

Sort of like a Duke Ellington piece, or the Zionsville Jazz version of So What played from sheet music. It wasn't about how having something worth listening to - it was about NOT making noise.

Church in Zionsville is similar. People know how things are supposed to go, and very little changes...very little demands effort at listening. And soon people come to feel they have little to say, little that is worth listening to. Which, I suspect, is why suburban Christians tend to be so much about proclaimation, political platform, punditry, and protest...they're the keepers of the assumed standards, and they're neither good at listening nor at expressing of much personal passion. Soul?

I have experienced IT on a few occassions, but probably best in a Bible study I used to enjoy on Friday nights when I lived in Denver. There were several cultures and demographics represented. Each placed certain relational demands upon the others - if we were going to be ourselves, and if we were going to trust the love the others insisted was available to us in the group, we had to make those demands evident. IT happened in doses, as we took turns expressing ourselves - each cycling through our turn to play a bit above the support of the rest of the ensemble.

I'm glad that at your jazz club the old man's voice wasn't so great, because I think maybe the most important catalyst to IT is found in the flaws of one of the invited performers. In my Bible study, there was a clumsy, needy man who split time pretty evenly between: snatching the conversation WAY off topic, being completely lost in the conversation, creeping the women out with his hugs and affections, and falling asleep as others shared. I know he drove a couple of the people in the group nuts - maybe people who didn't want to have to "listen" to him - but for me he was a constant reminder that the group belonged to God, not to my desires or plans. And as I came to trust that dynamic, it opened important doors for me - who may be frustrated by the conformity of Main Street but who ends up there more often than he ends up at jazz clubs nevertheless - to feel more comfortable risking my own "jazz" instead of the recital performances I spend the bulk of my life playing.

This is an evolving understanding for me, but today I would say IT is rooted in a greeting something like, "Welcome, brother, grab a seat and relax. Soak up the place. Jump in when you're ready - you look like you have something to share."

The best we have for each other are our prayers and our is listening, and the other is joining in.

Thanks again, JazzTheo, for the place to hum a bit.

9:29 AM  
Blogger gbe said...


Why did your site make me hum spontaneously? I wonder if I spelled that right...

Anyway, thanks for stopping by my site. About your question - which posts give you a better sense of who I am... Well, everything that's on my site is what I go through and what my thoughts are. My heart is with my family and godchildren, so any posts about them are a safe bet. Also, any posts about my future goals... They're scattered, but I think the whole blog gives you the best idea of who I am...

8:14 AM  
Anonymous Jeff said...

I'm just figuring the jazz thing out myself. I'm a musician, though. So I've experience "it" in my music. But not often -- even when the music is good. And though I've experienced "it" often within the family of faith, I've hardly ever seen it at church -- though I hear folks talk about having "it" at church all the time. I think they're mostly making it up, but I may be wrong about that.
As jazz is becoming part of my life, I'm hearing music differently. Playing it differently, too. The same is true for the way I experience faith.
From a musical perspective, I’m told that “it” is often the flatted-fifth – a dissonant sound made by two notes that are six steps apart. In the middle ages, they called it the "devil in music.” It is certainly the presence of pain. You just can’t play “Don’t Worry Be Happy” with a flatted fifth. The bebop artists, which included Miles Davis, thrived on the flatted fifth.
When I try to play the flatted fifth (on guitar) it just sounds like I’m messing up – probably because I’m paying too much attention to it. It doesn’t work to say, “let’s play flatted fifths.” But when it sneaks in, somewhere way down underneath the music, like the water that runs beneath the surface, you get “it.” Beautiful music that never lets you forget the pain, the dissonance.
Jazztheo asked us to listen to jazz before and after Kind of Blue. There were plenty of changes in the music, I’m sure, but the flatted fifth was a big one. I’ve read that Louis Armstrong and the big band guys despised it. I’m wondering where the flatted fifth fits in Christian theology, and which of us church guys are prone to despise it?

9:00 AM  
Blogger jazztheo said...

"Beautiful music that never lets you forget the pain." That's jazz.

9:51 PM  
Anonymous lightskinned negro said...

My Cool Daddy,

Don't y'all put Satchmo in the ghetto. Joy's got sometin' in jazz, too.


12:08 AM  
Blogger jazztheo said...

You know LSN, it doesn't matter what jazz I'm listening to, I am mindful of the context of pain that produced it. I'ts more of a Romans 8.28 thing.

5:43 AM  
Blogger Phil said...

I've experienced IT in prayer. Last week I was praying with a group I'm going to England with and I started praying for us and our trip and the church we're going to work with and the church we go to now.

It was a weird thing. I was sitting cross legged on the floor with my hands in my lap and I felt like my arms were 10 feet long and my head was higher than the rest of my body. It was as in the Spirit as I've ever been. It was as "IT" as I've ever been.

9:22 PM  
Blogger Seraph said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

2:45 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home