While enjoying some live jazz recently, I realized that jazz is good.“What,” I thought, “makes this jazz so good?” What does this jazz share with God, from whom all good things come, and how can it therefore lead me to know him better? Like all music, jazz shares in the goods of proportion, order, unity from diversity. These aspects are certainly good and would be fruitful to reflect on, but they are not what sets jazz apart.
What makes jazz unique? How is it different from chant, which best suits the Mass? Jazz does not seem to fit into a Mass, but rather seems to better describe everyday life. Chant follows a handful of simple rules, making it easy to pick up quickly and read. Many people can easily chant together united in praising God. Jazz, on the other hand, is a bit more hectic. While it still follows rules, these are not so readily picked up by a novice. The ability to improvise is key to being a good jazz player because improvisation at times strains the unity of the music, depending on the skill of the player. While chant is appropriate to the heavenly liturgy, jazz embodies our earthly sojourn.
One of the fantastic things about jazz is the interactions between the musicians. At different times, the different musicians take it in turn to lead the music while the other musicians follow. Sometimes the music seems to be running off the rails and sounds ready to collapse until suddenly: crash! The cymbal strike fills in exactly what was missing, and the whole of the piece makes sense.
Our lives are the same way. Sometimes we’re following along, letting someone else take the lead, and it seems like everything is falling apart. Then God comes in with a crash! that brings everything back together again. Perhaps the best example of this is the crucifixion. The crucifixion is jarring, much like a cymbal crash, but shifts creation back on track by its redemptive power. This redemption while universal is also individual. God is more than capable of supplying the missing bits that put our lives back on track in ways that would never happen if our lives were smooth sailing from the beginning. God can improvise like no other and make present his redemptive grace in our lives when we are most united to the crucifixion, at our most piteous state. Even if we wander a bit, he can lead us home.
Photo: Louisiana Five Jazz Band