Monday, April 30, 2012

Good Shepherd Jazz

Monday has dawned cool and gray here in Chicago.

When I was working full-time as a director of music and liturgy, I always loved "Good Shepherd Sunday" because of the wonderful array of "shepherd music" available for use. I remember conducting John Rutter's The Lord Is My Shepherd in my parish in Florida. It didn't hurt that the principal oboist for the Orlando Symphony Orchestra was a parishioner!

Yesterday at my parish we celebrated our annual "Jazz Mass." This Mass occurs on the weekend when we have our annual fundraiser for the Saint James food pantry, called "Jazzin' to Feed." Our parish is in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago, where much jazz, blues, gospel, and soul music originated. So our "Jazz Mass" reaches deeply into the roots of this community.

Our music director holds an advanced degree in jazz piano performance and was joined yesterday by two jazz musicians, one on drums, the other on string bass. Basically, at the Jazz Mass we sing much of our usual repertoire; it is just given a certain jazz style. Our opening hymn was Alan Hommerding's fine text Baptized in Living Waters, set to the tune AURELIA (for those not into hymn tunes, think of the melody of The Church's One Foundation). It was amazing to sing such a traditional tune in a jazz style. Ed Bolduc's Mass of Saint Ann sounded wonderful as well. A real high point for me came when these musicians played an arrangement of Marty Haugen's Shepherd Me, O God, arranged by our music director. Folks, it was absolutely heavenly. Sure, it takes a minute or two to get used to hearing jazz chords and harmonic structures at Mass, but this was real prayer. And, especially given the fact that it was being played in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago where much jazz got its start, it was all the more special.

When I got to the office this morning, I had the strains of The King of Love My Shepherd Is noodling around in my head. We sang it yesterday as well. And I couldn't help but think of James Scavone's fine (and non-jazzy!) arrangement of this hymn. So here is a snippet for your listening pleasure for this "Good Shepherd Week."

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Adam Wood said...

Old South Church in Boston ( has a Jazz worship weekly- Thursday evenings at 6pm.
They are a part of the United Church of Christ (, but their Jazz service is essentially a Eucharistic Liturgy (you would think they were progressive Episcopalians if this was the only thing you went to).

Anyway- I attended Jazz worship at Old South a handful of times when I worked down the street. It was wonderfully prayerful and (counter-intuitively) more peaceful than many traditional liturgies I've been to. The repertoire choices were more protestant than I would like (of course), but the style and quality were just wonderful.

I'd love to attend Jazz liturgy with Catholic sensibilities.

And, as a side note to that, and even though it is definitely not Christmas time, here is the Will Todd Trio doing a ridiculously awesome arrangement of Personent Hodie:

Charles Culbreth said...

We love Ed's "St. Ann" and certainly both the 3/4 Gloria/Holy/Amen can benefit by a brushes and syncopated ride cymbal; the changes in the Kyrie and Agnus can also be dressed and enhanced for jazz.
But there are plenty of other works over the years whose pedigrees are more suitable, not even counting Ernie Sands' tribute to Paul Desmond and Dave Brubaker.
Ralph Verdi wrote some amazingly great jazz changes in many of his cantor/psalm settings. A jazz backbeat for other 3/4 swing waltzes can be applied to M.D. Ridge's "the Lord is my hope" or B. Farrell's "Unless a grain..."
Exploring Duke Ellington's later sacred songs, notably "Come Sunday" is always warranted. And if you really want to go avant garde, try having a quire or schola chant with someone of Jan Garbarek's chops improvising on a soprano saxophone in a very ambient room.

David Bonofiglio said...

Great topic, jerry.

Bach and Parker are intimately related.

Check out "Sound of a Cathedral" for some Jazz/chant fusion.

Most contemporary liturgical music benefits from some extended harmonic language. I know I jam out on Unless a Grainnof Wheat whenever I use it. Because most contemporary repertoire is so simple in its structure, it's easy to graft more sophisticated musicality onto it.

THAXTED is great as a set opener and as break music. And the smarties in the audience love it.