A very naked thing
Two of our four worship services this weekend at St. Paul are jazz services (9:00 & 11:15 a.m.). It’s the 26th consecutive year (minus two for the pandemic) that our distinguished group of jazz folks from Chicago will lead us in worship. It’s also our final time with this band as we give thanks for their amazing run with us.
The idiom of jazz reaches far beyond just the realm of music. Business leadership teams discover swing and rhythm in the ways they operate. All of us make (or ought to make) more creative and spontaneous moves as we go about the hum-drum of our everyday lives.
“Making jazz is a very naked thing to do,” Gene Lees, the late music critic wrote. “That anyone can do anything at all but stand there in paralyzed amazement when the chord changes are going by, that musicians can function with minimal premeditation and great creativity within the materials of a song’s structure” – this is what Lees found remarkable. “[Jazz] requires both tremendous knowledge, whether intuitive or acquired, and the physical reflexes of an athlete.”
I’m regularly amazed at what the lead musicians in our congregation do on a weekly basis as they improvise and make spontaneous chord or key changes. I tell them as much, every chance I get. How is it that with minimal premeditation and so much creativity these people can make constant adjustments as they’re playing, all while avoiding stage paralysis? I can’t figure it out.
I’ve decided that improvisation is a gift from God. And, it’s much bigger than jazz or even music. Watch a gifted soccer player make intricate moves with her feet maneuvering the ball, and you know it’s improvisation that will burn you if you even try to defend against her. Or, think of a nurse tending to a patient in a trauma setting. Nursing school taught him the essentials, but everything else done in the flurry of the moment to save that patient’s life is spontaneous and improvised.
Making jazz, playing soccer, performing as nurse, and about three thousand other things I can’t imagine doing well, these are very naked things to do. Paralysis would instantly stricken my body. But maybe what we all need to do, to live some life other than the narrow or small one that gets packed with a lot of naked fears, is to learn from those who are really good at improvisation. That’s something I’ll be doing again on this weekend of jazz. And you?