A Review of
Spirits Rejoice! Jazz and American Religion
In the first chapter of Jason Bivens’s Spirits Rejoice! the author introduces a trumpeter named Lester Bowie, who satirically asked “Is jazz as we know it dead yet?” before charging ahead with a boundary-breaking trumpet solo. He follows this example with one of a saxophonist named Charles Gayle who alternated between live shows in clubs and playing on the streets as a homeless musician and clown, preaching against abortion and homosexuality in all of his shows. Bivens also mentions Anthony Braxton, a saxophonist/composer who merges metaphysics with his music. These three artists provide an introduction to some of the ways jazz transcends its own labels and constraints, especially those of language. It’s important to understand the way music as a medium defies categorizing, as many musicians consider the limits of the term “jazz” to be as limiting and offensive as a racial slur. Any attempt to categorize music or religion using language limits it, and, all too often, the people trying to use music to overcome the limits of music, religion, and culture. Attempting to capture this experience is as daunting a task as trying to write a book about jazz itself, a task Bivens rises to meet through the use of story.