"When spirituality and jazz meet, it's all about the whole: about mindful, honest wrestling with all, that constitutes, endangers and secures our existence."
After hearing the saxophonist Eric Kloss and John Coltrane as a teenager, I started playing saxophone and studied in Berlin, Switzerland, India and the USA jazz saxophone and theory in the late 1990s. I was fortunate to meet and learn from musicians who emphasized that jazz is first and foremost spiritual or even devotional music.
But what exactly does this mean for the music, how does it sound "spiritual" or even "religious" - and how could I find ways to connect spirituality with the music I like to play?
I formally started researching the history of Spiritual Jazz from my own spiritual home, protestant Christianity around 2015. At that point I had composed some religiously inspired jazz for a decade and started to plant some jazz in church spaces by organizing series of devotional jazz in churches in different German cities. Till today I have directed and organized over 700 jazz services in Germany and Europe and I played so far as a guest musician in worship settings in the USA; India, South Korea, Ukraine, Russia, Ethiopia and Namibia next to my work as a jazz musician and lecturer.
It became crucial to reflect critically and systematically on the practical experiences and I dedicated a span of 6 years to write a doctoral dissertation focusing on the Christian side of religiously inspired jazz, Worship in Jazz and Jazz in Worship. Along this research, I founded the network bluechurch.ch with jazz musicians and jazz lovers. We created festivals and conferences together and were able to publish a book trilogy of books in 2015, 2017 and 2023 on Spirituality and jazz from a Christian perspective.
In 2023, I started a new research which centers on the elements of jazz that re-occur through its history in different cultures and religions when spiritual inspiration is at its core. The first result was an essay published in German in November 2023, “Jazz und Spiritualität”. The reason of this blog is to document some discoveries along the way and hope to hear back from you about your own musical, listening and spiritual experiences.
My starting point in observing the spiritual dimensions of jazz is that these occur, when a jazz performance has a ritual character for the performers, and the audience alike. They gather as individuals to form a community of listeners for this one particular moment in time and space and encounter a transformational experience. After the concert - or a special moment in the concert - they feel touched, moved and changed which potentially impacts the daily lifes as well. African American Tenor player John Coltrane described his goal with of his music-making to “lift people up”, South African pianist Nduduzo Makhathini views his music as a tool to heal people. Many other musicians find different words for their spiritual mission and their listeners equally voice their reasons of enjoying jazz for spiritual reasons in diverse ways. But artists and their audiences express jointly the need for a free space at the heart of those unique moments. A free, an empty space to listen to become a vessel for inspiration outside of the known and expected and formerly heard. This space in the midst of the community of listeners is what this blog is about.