Ok, I’ll admit it: I didn’t go to church today. See, I’ve been battling a nasty cough and fatigue for roughly a month now, and the combination of feeling relatively human again and near-80 degree weather proved too much for me…..I went fishing. Since all of the rivers around are either closed or blown out right now, I turned my attention to a solid tide and a day to explore some new beaches on Puget Sound. What I didn’t except from the day however, was that while the fishing was pretty good and the weather was unbelievable, my favorite part of the day came courtesy of the extra time spent driving in the car. And NPR.
Almost 20 years ago I was about to enter 6th grade, and I had a big decision to make. I had already signed up for band class as an elective in middle school, but I hadn’t yet made up my mind about what instrument I wanted to play. There were two previously used choices in our house already–a snare drum that my brother had played in middle school band a few years earlier, and an old trumpet that had belonged to our dad. Eventually the trumpet won out, in part because of an image I had in my head of a famous trumpet player whose face inflated like a balloon when he played a custom trumpet that was tilted at a funny angle. I would soon learn from my brother that his name was Dizzy Gillespie, and for whatever reason I thought that having my face resemble a bullfrog while playing a trumpet was exactly the direction my musical career needed. A few months later I picked the trumpet as the instrument I wanted to play in middle school band.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that while my balloon face music career really didn’t have much of a future (I was decent, but not great), the early exposure to Dizzy Gillespie that started with a single cassette tape of an album entitled “A Night In Tunisia” would spawn a love for Jazz music that would soon dominate my CD collection. In high school, while my friends’ CD wallets were full of Green Day, Rage Against the Machine, and Dave Matthews Band albums, mine was full of Donald Byrd, John Coltrane, and Miles Davis (with some of the other stuff mixed in there just to reassure my friends that I wasn’t a complete dork). My room at home was soon decorated with posters of the “Blue Train” album cover and images of my 3 favorite trumpet players: Miles, Dizzy, and Louis Armstrong. Heck, even my original AOL log-in name was “Satchmo” as a shout out to Louis Armstrong. A bit obsessive? Don’t judge me.
Jazz remained a staple in my my CD collection all the way through college, but when I moved to Seattle I was forced to leave my large Jazz CD collection back in North Carolina. Sure, I bought an occasional album here and there that I didn’t already own, and I had a bunch of Jazz saved on my laptop computer, but over the last 8 years the love of Jazz had fizzled to the point that it was more of an occasional enjoyment.
All of that started to change about 8 months ago when I realized that the Half-Priced Books store closest to us had begun selling re-released copies of some of Jazz’s all-time great albums on vinyl (ok, so if you’re scoring at home, I’ve referenced cassette tapes, CD’s, and now vinyl–I’ll just go ahead and say “8 track tapes” to cover all bases). Needless to say I purchased a few and began listening to them occasionally on our record player. A few months ago at dinner with a couple we were quickly becoming friends with I learned that the husband is a classically trained Jazz guitar player, and this information opened the floodgates of conversation around Jazz favorites. This ultimately culminated in an Easter dinner with them, another couple we’ve known for several years, both couples’ children running around, and Jazz music floating through the air during all of it. To say that the fire had been re-stoked would be a bit of an understatement.
Which brings us back to today. When I left home this morning my radio was tuned to the local NPR station after having listened to “Car Talk” yesterday afternoon while doing errands. The morning portion of the drive where my brain was not yet awake enough to focus on more than driving and fishing was filled with the news and part of another program. After my 2nd or 3rd stop at a beach I returned to my car to find that the programming had shifted to Jazz. Over the course of the next 5 hours of driving, stopping to fish, driving some more, stopping to fish some more, and then driving a bit more, Jazz remained the programming for the duration of it all. Basically I spent most of my day driving with the windows down on a spectacular May afternoon, with the Olympics and Mt. Rainier popping up in a crystal clear fashion from time to time, catching a few fish here and there, and all the while drifting along to Count Basie, Lee Morgan, and Chet Baker.
Once I returned home, thoroughly back on the Jazz-wagon, I started thinking about why I loved Jazz so much when I was younger, and why I appreciate it and love it even more now. Sure, there was the hope that wearing Miles Davis t-shirts and making my face puff up while playing the trumpet would make me cooler (which didn’t work, by the way), and even still today there can be a bit of pride in hanging my hat on a form of music that a lot of people my age don’t appreciate. But I think the reason that Jazz holds so much for me is that it serves as a bit of a metaphor for life and faith. There’s an unbelievable amount of depth to it. There’s raw emotion that is poured in that also then pours right back out. There’s joy and there’s pain, and those two emotions can often be separated by the thinnest of lines (or notes). More than anything though, there’s a spontaneity (even in the composition of the big band era arrangements) that leaves the listener on edge to see what’s next, and it’s in this spontaneity that room is left for us to realize that we have a voice and a part. It’s in this spontaneity that all of our rough-around-the-edges components and diverse sounds can blend into a harmony in the hands of a master composer. It’s in this willingness to accept spontaneity that we realize that we don’t have to provide all the answers to all the questions if we’re willing to follow the composer–that there’s room for things to not always make sense. And it’s in this opportunity to explore spontaneity that we can ultimately find freedom, because we follow a God that wants us to live and use and explore our gifts and talents released from the fear of failure and self-doubt.
While I’m in no way saying that my new plan is to skip church every Sunday to listen to records here at the house, I do believe that God did a little something for me through NPR today. If as a result that means incorporating a bit more Jazz back into my daily routine in order to remind me of a few things, then I’m more than fine with that. Who knows, I might even start posting some songs or videos on here just for fun too. If I’m going to start that, I might as well start with a place similar to where I started some 18 years ago. Enjoy.