The Gospel and Jazz

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Apr 27, 2009 by Howard Baker | 0 Comments

That there are profound connections between the Gospel and jazz music was first brought to my attention by Dr. Doug Groothuis who is a lover of both. Last month I was thrilled to see those connections "performed" through the passionate words of Denver Seminary grad Robert Gelinas and the soulful sounds of a highly skilled jazz ensemble. It was the first in a series of  "Jazz and Soul Nights" at the Soiled Dove (info at and tickets at where Robert will "teach" through the high points of his new book, Finding the Groove:  Composing a Jazz-Shaped Faith. The next offering is tomorrow (April 28) night, followed by May 26, June 30, July 28, September 1, and September 29.  Each evening is devoted to one chapter of the book.  Next fall Robert will join us for Common Ground and give our community a taste of the "jazz-shaped faith."

In one of those happy Spirit-led connections, I stumbled upon a New York Times article last week "A Life Lived on the Side" ( which described the life of Larry Fuller a jazz "sideman." Here are some quotes from the article from which I will let you draw some gospel connections for your own jazz-shaped faith:

Mr. Fuller, a trim man with a shaved head whose stubby fingers fly deftly over the keyboard, smiled graciously. A needy ego is of no use to a sideman, who makes a living in another artist's shadow and gets only parenthetical billing, usually with his instrument appended to his name ("Larry Fuller on piano"). But it is always nice to know that people are tuning in to him, Mr. Fuller said, as it reaffirms his core belief that "you can never underestimate what people hear even if you are just backing somebody up."

Like many a sideman with considerable talent, Mr. Fuller, who also composes and arranges, worries about maintaining his musical identity and aspires to lead his own trio someday. But for now, he said, especially after a difficult period in his personal life, it is enough to "serve the music" that he has revered since he was 13...

...his philosophy: play every note with conviction, honor the bandstand and treat the music as sacred.

"Larry has a reverence for the music that I find refreshing," Mr. Pizzarelli said. "He's incredibly respectful of the gig."

"Front people need to be a little more outgoing and demonstrative than Larry, who just sits there and does his thing.  But I push him to take the next step. He's got the résumé, he knows the music, he's got the talent."  Mr. Fuller himself is in no hurry. He said that he is not a born entertainer, and that he lacks the gene for self-promotion. "I've always figured the music would take care of me if I approach it with conviction, honesty and diligence," he said. "And there's some kind of beauty in that."

I can't resist making one connection-there is joy and freedom in being a "sideman" or "sidewoman" with humility and conviction in the shadow of Jesus while allowing Him to be the "frontman" for the kingdom music that, indeed, will take care of us.  And there is eternal beauty in that.


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