In the beginning was jazz

BBC Radio 4 looks at the interplay between faith and jazz in Sunday Worship on 10 August, with extracts from Ellington's Sacred Music Concerts

In the beginning was jazz …

… and the jazz was with God. In BBC Radio 4’s Sunday Worship programme on 10th August 0810-0848 hours, the Rev. Dr. Stephen Roberts explores the relationship between jazz and faith. For him, a sax player in the group Wonderbrass and Senior Lecturer in Modern Theology at Chichester University, faith and jazz go hand in hand; the one helps him understand and appreciate the other all the more. This feature-service marks the 30th anniversary of the Brecon Jazz Festival and specifically highlights the important place of Brecon Cathedral within that festival. For as long as the Festival has been running so, too, has a special Sunday morning jazz service at the cathedral. These joyous, celebratory, packed-to-the-rafters events have reflected on the role that jazz plays in the lives of so many, and on how its origins and history play into a relationship with Christian faith and spirituality in general.

The programme features material recorded at various jazz services at the cathedral over the years (recorded by BBC Radio Wales) and includes musical extracts by David Newton (Blessed Land) and Beth Allwood and the Little Voice Band (Amazing Grace), together with enthusiastic congregational singing of trad hymns accompanied by the Adamant Marching Band – regular contributors to the jazz festival.

Duke Ellington’s In The Beginning God is used to illustrate the creative, natural merging of jazz and faith, as is Esther Marrow’s singing of the Lord’s Prayer, both taken from recordings of the historic Sacred Music Concerts by Ellington (pictured right).

But the sermon at the heart of this programme steals the show. It was delivered at the 2007 jazz service, and the then Bishop of Bangor, the Rt. Rev. Anthony Crockett, recalls past appearances at the festival by Courtney Pine and George Shearing, and goes on to express the importance for him of the tradition of improvisation: “… of all forms of music, it is jazz which offers us an integral pattern for coping with the brokenness of this world, a world of pain and the denial of human dignity”.

It was a poignant moment because Bishop Anthony was ill with cancer, from which he would pass away not long afterwards. Forearmed with that knowledge, listening now, his words sink into our hearts and souls, and we feel that tangible relationship between jazz and life in all its beauty and brokenness. He ends, “God bless jazz. God bless Brecon Jazz. And God bless us all in our calling to improvise in the face of life’s challenges and, filled with God’s Spirit, to produce some great music in our lives.”

Karen Walker, Producer, BBC R4 Sunday Worship

Sunday Worship Tx. BBC R4 Sunday, 10 August 2014, 08.10am

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