The look on his face is extraordinary: joy, ecstasy, brilliance, vulnerability, delight, all at once . . . he loves what he is doing. For the moment, it doesn't matter if he gets paid. When a colleague spots him, she reads his face instantly. She knows he is doing more than dusting off his dreams. He is making the music that he was placed on the planet to make.
For Jack Baker, life comes by way of spinning new melodies. Of drenching the night with rich harmony. Of playing the depths of his soul in a way that others can sing along . . . even without words.
Jazz musicians understand this. We don't discuss it much, but we frequently have the experience. When the music is flowing freely, when the rhythm is infectious, we know about the ecstasy that lifts people out of all wretchedness and the joy that mends our broken bones. We want to be part of such moments.
|One such moment in early July 2013|
In the past eight days of my "music week," I have heard about twenty concerts. My soul is nearly full. And the musicians that have stood out have been infused with joy.
- There was the manic excitement of the African guitarist Lionel Loueke, improvising in a wild time signature in Montreal.
- The Chicago bluesman Buddy Guy played his audience like a guitar, shouting "Wait a minute" and telling us, "I don't need to own a gun in order to love you," and then winking with a smile.
- Donny McCaslin hurled gravity-defying melodies into the air on his tenor saxophone.
- Arturo Sandoval blew hair-raising lines on his trumpet, and then played them again an octave higher.
- The Preservation Hall Jazz Band raised the dead to their feet and made us dance.
All of it, done with joy.
I have a hunch that one reason why some people shy away from jazz is that they are afraid of joy. They are fearful that it might affect them, that it might demand more attention than they planned to give it, that it might free them from the fundamentalism of the printed page, that it might raise them from the dead. All of that can be personally frightening and threatening to the status quo. That's why Hitler outlawed jazz in the Third Reich, after all; he intentionally replaced the music of Louis Armstrong with the lock-step march and jailed all the creative artists.
But nobody has ever shut down the Holy Spirit. To quote the apostle Paul, "The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom" (2 Corinthians 3:17).
Great freedom. Deep joy. I hear it in the making of music. Not merely in the replaying of a tune on the radio or a recording, but in the actual making of the music. In the words of St. Irenaeus, "The glory of God is a human being fully alive."