Biblical Interpretation and Jazz

Read the following remarks on jazz improvisation by Sharon Welch and tell me how much this sounds like biblical interpretation:

Think about the logic of jazz. Jazz emerges from the interplay of structure and improvisation, collectivity and individuality, tradition and innovation. What goes on when jazz is performed? Jazz is not completImageely free form. There are standards, songs that can be played again and again. The score of jazz ranges from a chord progression and melody, or a full orchestration with openings for improvisation. From that core the players innovate and improvise, modifying the chords and melodies and rhythm. The pleasure and energy of jazz comes from hearing both a familiar chord progression and melody and the new possibilities, what can be done from that structure. The ability to improvise is fuelled both by individual effort, creativity and technique and group synergy: the technical skill and creativity of each player is as foundational as is the spark that comes from playing off of each other.

So, what does it take to improvise? A key element is respect for the tradition, learning from it without merely repeating it. This respect is expressed by Miles Davis: ’I played ‘My Funny Valentine’ for a long time – and didn’t like it – and all of a sudden it meant something’ (Walser 1995, p. 165). Another essential element in jazz is respect for other players. As James Collier emphasizes, the worst that can be said of a jazz player is that he or she doesn’t listen (Collier 1993). A third element in jazz is openness to learning something new from an old piece and from other players, working with difference and novelty. Amiri Baraka highlights this aspect of jazz in his description of the playing of Chico Freeman: ’… he can unleash all the fire and mystery and otherness of the outside, but within the unifying and compelling vision of the carefully made. And this is what we look for, what we listen for, in any genre or style, the care and attention of the skilled craftsman along with the fire and passion of the exquisitely sensitive’ (Baraka, 248). And what is evoked by the performance of jazz? Joy, energy and intellectual challenge for both players and listeners. Eric Lott sees this dimension of jazz in the playing of Charlie Parker- ’jazz was a struggle which pitted mind against the perversity of circumstance, and … in this struggle blinding virtuosity was the best weapon’(Lott 1995). A final dimension of good jazz is that, when all of these components come together, it swings” (‘Communitarian Ethics After Hauerwas’, Studies in Christian Ethics 10.1 (1997))


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