Your breath hangs in that moment.
It is the moment when the bass sets an ostinato that grinds out groups of fives, increasing sets of tension and resolution that acknowledge and, and then violate the measured spaces, where you know that the pattern has purpose and destination, but it’s going to take 80 measures for it to resolve. The drummer knows it too. He finds it, and sets down on it a rolling 3 pattern on the ride bell. But it’s subtle, so maybe you don’t know that he’s hearing it. You think you might be the only one, so you set in a chord voicing that leaves room down below for the bass to rise up the series of tension notes, and leaves room on top for someone to speak into the open spaces.
And they speak, in diving lines and running scales, notes that have no place in the ordinary order of things, that only make sense because the pianist makes them make sense, gives them a context in which to speak. And so a dominant 7th chord adopts the flat 9 as it’s red-headed step-child, because the tension of it is too beautiful to leave orphaned.
And the bass grinds out groups of fives, and the drums roll on in triplets and subtle shades of swing, and the piano pushes out a harmonic order that the sax speaks into, and it builds and roils until it seems like the thing can’t hold together. You are a guest in a foreign language, and the sounds all sound like sounds you could make with your own mouth if you tried, but the words are all different, and the language is confusing and subtle, and wondrous and complex, and it builds, and grinds, and the tension increase, and you wonder if you’re the only one who hears it, because if anyone else were here, they wouldn’t be in their seats, they would rise up and shout, they would rise up and try to speak in that language, they would rise up and cry out for a resolution to the rising tension of notes that make no sense except that they have been made to make sense by being in the right story.
And in that moment, your breath hangs.
And when the resolution comes, the beauty of the tension is made clear.
The beauty of Jazz is this; Coltrane, and Monk, and McCoy Tyner, and Ella, they all dance the same twelve steps that Bach, Mozart, and Handel danced. That’s it. That’s all we get, the same twelve steps. They all get a fixed amount of time, from first note to last breath, and they all break it down into groups of two and three. That’s it. Just twos and threes.
We who create in this world are working with someone else’s clay. We aren’t creating, we’re recreating. We act in the way that our Father taught us to act, when he breathed into us his image. From that moment on, we set about the mystic task of gathering dust, adding water, and recreating.
Jazz is an infinite statement of recreation. It lives, as all music does, within the brutal confines of physical constraints; the fifth note of any scale always has the same relationship to the first note, because the alternating series of high and low pressures in the sound wave follow fixed and eternal rules, and those rules force it to function in that way. The beauty of Jazz is that it finds its freedom, its limitless expression of human experience, within the confines of that fixed structure.
What else can I say? That it is an incarnation of community? That it is a model of trinitarian theology, where three create as one, being separate, but being the same? That it is the music of the poor and the weak emphatically stating that freedom is their birthright? That if Bach and Mozart and Handel were alive today, they wouldn’t be at the Met, they’d be at the Village Vanguard?
No, I think I’ll say just this. Jazz is a living metaphor for the image of God that, being embodied in us, resists all efforts to be constrained by our brokenness.
Ingrid, my dear, if you don’t think Jazz is worship music, you don’t understand worship.