Wednesday, August 1, 2012


California Catholic Daily posted an article today regarding this upcoming event:
St. Joseph Cathedral Basilica in San Jose will feature jazz Masses on Saturday, Aug. 11, and Sunday, Aug. 12, according to the cathedral’s website… The Masses are part of the Aug. 10-12 San Jose Jazz Summer Fest, billed by its promoters as “the hottest event of the summer featuring a stellar lineup of international stars, emerging artists and regional favorites playing straight-ahead jazz, blues, salsa, Latin, R&B, and more!” and as “the biggest live music event in Silicon Valley… The many natures of jazz, both spiritual and spirited, are brought out in special musical liturgies in San Jose’s gorgeously-restored Cathedral…
All of the commentary thus far has been strongly negative, though from differing perspectives. One Sacramento resident made mention of their Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament’s multiple decades’ tradition of the (primarily Dixieland) Jazz Festival Mass, but otherwise wasn’t too keen. A pastor offered that this is nothing short of “scandal” and “abuse.” Personally I found the following to be the most reasoned argument:
Jazz is jazz and the Mass is the Mass. As a lifelong jazz performer, I never have felt this music belonged in Mass. If you want an audience, a listener who knows what jazz really is will not have to be drawn to a Mass to hear. Sometimes I wonder what all those people are coming to Mass for in the first place. When I hear jazz, I don’t (want) to be distracted by a Mass.
It seems, at a glance, to be pretty much a no-brainer and never the twain shall or should meet. What the jazz musician implied but didn’t actually say was a corollary to his last statement, namely “When I hear Mass, I don’t (want) to be distracted by jazz.” What intrigues me enough to post about this is that I’m not sure that reflexive, pat surface and didactic responses do justice to an art form that has a myriad spectrum of styles and manifestations as does what we call “classical music.” And as of yet, I’m not including chant or polyphony in either of those two camps. But it would be just as inaccurate to say that jazz had its genesis in bordellos in New Orleans as it would be to say that medieval musical traits such as organum and isorhythms had a genesis in the plays of troubadors/trouveres in the market squares. For well over a century, major composers of sacred works large and small have employed melodic and harmonic vocabularies that are kissin’ cousins to the compound chordal and chromatic voice leading traits common to jazz. I can recall, for example, many of Ralph Verdi’s antiphons for GIA’s “Cantor and Congregation” series that were, at the least, emulative of jazz progressions, but seemed quite natural in how he employed them as acclamations and so forth. Polytonality, even if you take Stravinsky out of the discussion, is commonly employed in both traditions. So to the point, what is it that the jazz musician has in mind when he associates an affect of jazz as constituting an automatic distraction were it used at Mass. Well, I leave the rest of the discussion for you. For some perspective I’ve provided links to some video recordings where the lines may not be so clearly drawn.

In thee,O Lord, is all my trust (Tallis) Jan Garbarek/Hilliard EnsembleWhen Jesus Wept- (Wm. Billings) Jan Garbarek/Hilliard Ensemble

When Jesus Wept- (Wm. Billings) Jan Garbarek/Hilliard Ensemble

Edward “Duke” Ellington - Come Sunday with Kathleen Battle and Branford Marsalis

Kara Morgan sings the Introitus from Thomas Gabriel's "Gregorianik & Jazz"

(Comment moderation is now in effect for this site.)