Written by Anthony Moujaes
Some say jazz laid the soundtrack to the Civil Rights Movement, music defined by its spontaneity and blend of soothing blues notes. It is also the music of choice of the Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, the United Church of Christ's general minister and president, who sees jazz as a liturgical expression that offers spiritual inspiration. That is one reason the UCC GMP is issuing an open invitation to clergy, lay leaders and jazz fans to share their thoughts and visions on the combination of jazz and liturgy during a 'Jazz for the Journey' — symposium this fall.
Jazz for the Journey, will bring together pastors, worship leaders, jazz musicians and music lovers from across the country to celebrate, share and explore the creative possibilities of jazz — and its power to speak to our existential situation and transform Christian worship.
"To me, jazz music is a doorway to the soul," Black said. "The music is always moving, which can be inspiring, and some of the greatest jazz musicians were spiritually-grounded Christians. I think those aspects are part of what make jazz the right music to reach out for justice, for mission, and to create a better world by re-introducing it into the church."
The event takes place from Thursday, Oct. 24, through Saturday, Oct. 26 in Cleveland, Ohio, home to the UCC's National Offices. The focus of the gathering – to give people the tools, resources and inspiration to bring jazz music into their congregations, and provide attendees with the opportunity to network with each other as they learn more about the history of jazz music. Jazz originated in the Southern United States in the early 20th century within African-American communities, and in the decades since has extended to a global audience.
"As we gather at Jazz for the Journey, I look forward to sharing our visions for what role jazz plays in transforming our worship together," Black said. "This music has taken on so many different genres throughout the world, and it is the type of music that can be appreciated by youths, young adults, and older generations. It hits several notes, so to speak."
Black will deliver the keynote address for the symposium on Thursday evening, Oct. 24, at the UCC's Amistad Chapel. Other presenters include the Rev. Henry T. Simmons, pastor of St. Albans Congregational UCC in Queens, N.Y.; the Rev. Dwight Andrews, senior minister of First Congregational Church UCC in Atlanta; and the Rev. Ozzie Smith, senior pastor of Covenant UCC in South Holland, Ill. Among the topics that will be discussed in their presentations are the ways liturgical music transforms worship in the church, the ways in which jazz is right in worship, and how jazz improvisation acts as prayer.
"There are different hopes for different people," said the Rev. Cliff Aerie, who is assisting Black with event organization. Aerie directs the Resident Artist Ministry for the Missouri Mid-South Conference of the UCC, and works with congregations in worship renewal, spiritual formation and mission outreach. "Clergy will be resourced to embrace jazz in their churches and welcome jazz into the life of their ministry. For a music director, they might learn more about the improvisational style of jazz instead of being tied to sheet music. For those who love jazz, it's a chance to have a great time and rub shoulders with other jazz lovers."
Aerie will lead the six-person Oikos Ensemble in a performance during Friday, Oct. 25 concert. The Oikos Ensemble has performed at several UCC events, including General Synod, National Youth Event, and conference and association gatherings.
Early registration for the three day symposium on jazz music as liturgy is $199 before Sept. 15 and $250 after that date. It includes a seat at the presentations, workshops and breakout sessions, jazz-themed worship services, a ticket to the jazz concert, two meals, and discounted hotel accommodations. Student-rate tickets, single-day passes and concert tickets are also available on the event website.
Jazz for the Journey is sponsored by the United Church of Christ, in collaboration with Trinity Cathedral (Episcopal Diocese of Cleveland) and Cleveland State University's Initiative for the Study of Religion and Spirituality in the History of Africa and the Diaspora (RASHAD).
For more information on the presenters, workshop topics and a schedule of events, visit ucc.org/jazzjourney.