Valerie Taylor
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My brother wanted to be jazz musician for his life’s work. His first passion was the saxophone; later he fell for the double bass. I remember when my brother had his first paying gig – at a strip bar in Vancouver. Our mother, being a supportive parent, dragged the family down to cheer my brother on. It was quite an evening. A few weeks later one of the strippers smashed a beer bottle over the head of the band’s drummer; my brother quit, deciding that he needed a daytime job; but although jazz would become his avocation, it would always be his first love.

I love jazz.

And so does writer Colleen Shaddox. In 2005 she wrote about her love of jazz in an essay for the National Public radio series “This I Believe.” It was entitled “Jazz is the Sound of God Laughing.”

Jazz thrives through the art of improvisation – there’s a basic tune, and then you work with it. A lot like living the gospel – you know the underlying melody, and then God invites you to improvise, experiment. You can learn from those who have made music before you (or walked the gospel way), but then you need to make it your own. You’re invited to discover how funeral marches, the blues, black gospel songs, dance music, the voices of people who’ve lived through pain, slavery, joy, love, faith, despair, laughter… how all that comes together and brings life to the heart and soul.

Lots of great solo jazz musicians; lots of Christian saints, too. But both jazz and the gospel become something else when people play and work together. Someone lays down the melody, and then it becomes a group creation, each person playing her or his instrument, offering unique interpretations and understandings, taking risks, trying something new, charging ahead, holding back, keeping the rhythm so no one gets lost, adding, corroborating, questioning… but going forward.

I love jazz.