“A Love Supreme”
A Review of
Finding the Groove: Composing a Jazz-Shaped Faith.
by Robert Gelinas.
Reviewed by Chad R. Abbott.
Finding the Groove:
Composing a Jazz-Shaped Faith.
Paperback: Zondervan, 2009.
Buy now: [ Doulos Christou Books $12 ] [ Amazon ]
One does not have to be a jazz enthusiast, play a trumpet or saxophone, or even know the full history of jazz to appreciate the wisdom that comes from Robert Gelinas’ new book Finding the Groove: Composing a Jazz-Shaped Faith. Suggesting himself to be a “jazz theologian,” Gelinas argues that it is the formula and culture-producing agency of jazz that can help people of faith understand the modern and ancient worlds through new lenses. He writes, “A jazz shaped faith is not about liking the music or introducing smooth jazz versions of hymns into our worship services. Rather, it is about understanding and incorporating the essence of jazz into the way we follow Jesus.” Jazz is “more than music” and is instead a way of being, a way of seeing, or more importantly a sense of rhythm.
The rhythm of which Gelinas speaks that makes jazz relevant to faith comes in three ways: Syncopation, Improvisation and Call-and-Response. Syncopation is the emphasis of the “off beat” in the rhythm of a 4/4 measured song. Placing emphasis on the offbeat creates a swing and rhythm way of life, one that sees something that is present but often goes unnoticed. Gelinas offers the suggestion that Jesus was a “master of noticing the unnoticed.” Improvisation is a reinterpretation of old forms and structures by expressing a new creativity on the fly. Improvisation works within the structure given, but interprets the ancient with a new twist. Gelinas relates this to the attribute of God as a “Creator” and suggests that our relationship with God is not always the same and that interaction with the God of the Bible suggests improvisation as a model of interaction and faithfulness. Finally, the call-and-response rhythm is a conversation taking place among the group. Jazz musicians have this conversation regularly by allowing each instrument to have their turn in sharing a solo within the framework of the song that is playing. Gelinas, again, relates this to God’s entrepreneurial way and creative demand of a dialectical response from creation. The conversation creates new ways of being. Gelinas, coming from the black church tradition, reminds the reader of the deep connection to the slave religion in the early Americas that enlisted this conversational style as a mode of being and continues to this day. These three elements of jazz, essential elements that make it the only uniquely American music, tells the story not only of America, but of the way of the Christian faith. Continue Reading…