- October 15, 2010 at 8:17 am #268133Well, just a couple weeks ago I needed a life line.(still kind of do for that particular choir) Now, into my world walks a jazz grad from a local college and she has the chops, her own cd’s and sang in a SA jazz choir in college.I know nothing about jazz, I don’t speak the language, I can ‘read’ jazz piano (even jazz organ) that is written out – no prob. Now, here we go into jazz choir land.The church leadership is open to any innovation I can dream up. They have a ‘lets give it a go’ attitude about almost anything with the hopes that we try ten things, one might work – the stuff we did for the last thirty years isn’t working any more.SA Jazz Choir – starter tips, pointers? …what is real jazz anyways when we think ‘choir’ ?We might sing in church once and a while but the focus right now is on young mom’s and the neighbourhood who never darken our door – neighbourhood outreach. Said ‘jazz grad’ says she has a few of her own students to get this off the ground.From lifelines to serendipity!October 15, 2010 at 10:55 am #268157
John HowellParticipantHi again, L, and a women’s jazz group sounds like it could be a real hoot! Whether it’s appropriate for worship is a separate question, of course, but with open-minded leadership and an expert in your midst, you can certainly try it out and find the answer to that question. Here are a few thoughts.First, there is true “jazz,” and there is “jazz style.” People who are immersed in jazz tend to be a little prickly about this, but it remains a fact. “Real” jazz involves improv, or so they have been taught and so they believe. Jazz style, on the other hand, involves a different way of interpreting the dots on the page, a different rhythmic sense, and an understanding of a different collection of ornaments. I say this having spent many years arranging in jazz STYLE for a number of different ensembles, but not in most cases expecting or even wanting to have singers take off on scat choruses. I’ve also had the privilege of working with many jazz greats over the years, but I myself am not and never will be a jazzer.Second, you are very perceptive to ask “what is real jazz anyways when we think ‘choir’?” It is, and must be, ARRANGED jazz, which to me means music arranged in jazz style, with or without solo scat. Now what that means on a practical level is two- or threefold: the arranger has to understand jazz, jazz stylings, and jazz ornamentation; the director (I hesitate to use the word “conductor”) has to understand the same things; and the singers themselves have to understand them OR be willing to learn them from someone qualified to teach them. If any one of those three things fall down, it’s pretend jazz, and pretend jazz style.And third, much like pop and rock-based praise music, jazz presupposes accompaniment by at least a rhythm section, ideally (and traditionally) including keyboard, drum set, and acoustic string bass, with optional jazz guitar (NOT rock guitar!). And the instant you add that kind of accompaniment you are faced with the need to use sound amplification for your singers to retain balance, and to let the words be heard. And of course it goes without saying that you also have to have players who grok jazz, and not just classical or rock players.As to your becoming more conversant with jazz, Northern Colorado University (I think I have the name right) is a long-time hotbed of vocal jazz, and may have materials available to lead a beginner into understanding jazz and jazz styles. And Frank DeMiro’s Sound Music Publications may also have some things along that line, and might very well have arrangements available that are less hard-core and more accessible for a beginning group.On a philosophical level, I have to question whether jazz is a good medium to communicate what needs to be communicated during worship. It is NOT a style that is universally understood and admired as it was back in the ’40s and ’50s, because like so many popular art forms–and it IS an art form!–it has developed past the stage of universal appeal and into the stage of a late-period art form that speaks more to a core of afficionados than to the general public. In fact the very fact that there ARE college majors in “jazz studies” suggests that as far as the academic community is concerned it is no longer a growing art form, and is therefore something to be studied and disected.I’m also just a little curious why you would automatically assume that you should form a women’s group. (I would not call it an SA group because there’s no reason to feel stuck in a 2-part format.) Not that there’s anything wrong with that, and it might fit your available personnel better than a mixed group. I directed and arranged for a women’s show group at one university, and for a mixed group at another, and both can be perfectly valid both musically and stylistically.So with the caveats above, I’d say you should Go For It, and see what develops. Just remember that those young moms are a LOT more likely to spend their time listening to current pop than to either classical OR jazz, but that they also are more likely to have open minds when it comes to music.All the best, JohnOctober 15, 2010 at 12:49 pm #268166Thanks John. Can’t participate in the philosophical debate nor the appropriateness for worship debate. I’m a ‘in-the-trenches’ guy and what works works that’s all I have time for right now. My congregation will have no trouble with real or pretend jazz. I will let others hash out the deep stuff.You ask why woman only. Well, every choir within 100 km of me is looking for men – every season! (But not the woman’s choirs.) Again, not enough time to participate in the hunt for the vanishing singing male. I have been kind of doing it for 25 years now and this year I sold my net. It may just be a phenomenon of my particular area.Thanks for the heads up around amplification – I anticipate we will just stay with acoustic piano and percussion (not drum set) to start with. Jazz or not, amplification and mics are a complication I will not entertain at this time with this group.Thanks for the reference to NCU and DiMiro.NOctober 16, 2010 at 7:42 am #268211
Daniel WagnerParticipantHi, L – John H has offered some wise thoughts (not surprising 🙂 … the only thing I would add to the style conversation – having done this a few times with adult church singers – is that the vocal approach should be “casual” in terms of diction and generally singers won’t want to use full-on resonance. Don’t over-sing or over-pronounce jazz. And wobbles won’t work. Especially if you sing on microphones. In fact (depending a bit on your church acoustics) I would develop the sound of a group like this with an “on mic” style, even if they are not singing “on mic” at the moment. It’s surprising how well good tuning and unified rhythm and pronunciation will project, even when sung with a laid-back jazz/pop vocal production.as another “in the trenches” church musician (though I am blessed to have some excellent men singing in the church!), a couple of very practical resources come to mind that might help get you started.* Go to Deanna Witkowski’s web site http://www.deannawitkowski.com/ and get her song book(s). She has lots of hymn and liturgical arrangements that are unison (with bits of harmony as I recall). She has reworked the rhythms for jazz style, and of course created very tasty jazz chords in the accompaniment. They are lead sheets, so the pianist will have to be able to create an accompaniment from the chord symbols. (Since you DO play well, I would encourage you to have a little fun trying it yourself.) Please get Deanna’s recording of the arrangements as well – her piano skills and the band she uses are absolutely top-notch Manhattan “session players”. Your singers will have a ball getting into the rhythms and style, but will know the basic tunes and not have to worry about the tricky harmonies to start out with. Meanwhile your expert can sink her teeth into the accompaniment and the style.* Depending on your church’s liturgical bent, you might want to have a look and listen to Bob Chilcott’s “Little Jazz Mass”. It’s available in SSA, but it seems that when I listened through it the harmonies weren’t difficult.I hope it’s a big hit for you!Dan WagnerGrace UMCNaperville, ILOctober 16, 2010 at 8:23 am #268214
Thomas H. ShellenbergerParticipantHello L:In my experience jazz in worship can be meaningful and enjoyable when approached from the right direction. The WORSHIP part is, of course, the active word here. Jazz improv, which is at the heart of jazz artistry, has a place in this, too, keeping in mind the time frame and continuity of the church service, Mass, or whatever… It isn’t a jazz concert…it’s a church service, so the improv needs boundaries. The jazz is, sort of, a “new song” mentioned in Psalms. But it’s not the only song. I’ve always treated it as an alternative way to help the congregation focus on the message of the day… Jazz is not the way each and every Sunday. The novelty of it would soon wear off as you might guess. You will have to judge that for yourself in your own set of circumstances.May I suggest you look into the following:http://www.smpjazz.com – a website that contains some choral jazz tunes(including one or two of mine) – Frank DeMiero will be a great help to you.Also, check out http://www.presbybop.com – a great website about the Rev. Bill Carter and the Presbybop Jazz Quartet.His book, Swing a New Song to the Lord, contains well-known hymns with wonderful chord substitutions, and original anthems by folks like Dave Brubeck, all set with jazz stylings. Wonderful book to help guide you through the jazz worship process, with written-out keyboard accompaniments.Again, in my experience, after the word got around about our jazz worship we saw many visitors in the pews. There was a lot of curiosity. There was an outreach. Finally, whatever you do with this… plan it well. Bill Carter’s book should help you to do that.Good Luck in your new venture!tOctober 16, 2010 at 9:07 am #268217
Thomas LloydParticipantJohn,With all due respect to your particular experience of choral and sacred jazz, I think your views are a bit narrow here. Going back to the Sacred Concerts of Duke Ellington, there has been a vital tradition of sacred choral jazz, involving both choral arranging as you describe it here and solo improvisation, not such a difficult thing artistically to combine (see my article in the Choral Journal from a couple years back). There are several composers still writing compelling music in this tradition today, such as Carl MaultsBy, Hannibal Lokumbe, Jay Fluellen, and others. Though not involving choral writing, Terence Blanchard and Wynton Marsalis have written probing extended jazz works within a sacred context. Jazz vespers have also been an important part of the ministry of a number of urban churches in the US since the 60’s. There is in fact a good deal of sensitivity about the use of jazz in many churches, including many black churches, because of the genre’s association with club life in its earlier years. But that hasn’t stopped dedicated composers and musicians from developing the genre. Lastly, just because jazz is taken seriously by academia (though there is a gulf between the Big-10 university-style jazz band programs and more urban jazz studies programs) doesn’t mean that it has been relegated to the museum with nothing new happening today – if so, classical music would have long been in the same boat. – TL
October 16, 2010 at 10:01 am #268220
Alison VernonParticipantGoogle “Music Serving The Word” ministries. They have a wonderful jazz music for church program that is easy enough for beginners and advanced enough for seasoned jazzers.Sounds exciting.Alison VernonOctober 17, 2010 at 12:34 am #268266
Since you are experimenting, here’s a specific suggestion to add to the excellent ones already given: Bob Chilcott’s Little Jazz Mass, which is available for SSA & piano with optional drum + bass. It’s the traditional Latin setting, so no one can accuse you of liturgical digression; the piano part can be played straight, or enhanced if you want to dip a toe into the waters of improv; you can accompany by yourself, or your jazz diva’s drum- and bass-toting friends (who are likely just a phone call away) can join in. That way you can get a read on how well such things go over with the rest of your choir, as well as the congregation and leadership, without teaching yourself a whole new discipline or straying too far afield liturgically.
If you want a practical example, we just did the SATB setting (adapted for men’s voices) last week at Grace Cathedral in SF, to an enthusiastic reception (Grace isn’t exactly the most conservative venue in most senses, but it was still a significant departure from our Byrd/Stanford/Howells norm.) The Chilcott was paired with organ voluntaries by Fats Waller, a Sacred Harp-inspired anthem, and a setting of “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” (MLK’s favorite gospel hymn). Full audio is online at http://www.gracecathedral.org/mp3/eucharist/eucharist10_10.mp3 (Chilcott Gloria is about 10 minutes in).
Hope this helps!
P.S. In the past we’ve also done what I believe is the SSA version, with the full jazz combo…you can hear that one too, if you like, at http://www.gracecathedral.org/mp3/eucharist/eucharist01_04.mp3 (much better recording)October 20, 2010 at 8:32 am #268508Wow. Thanks for all the tips and references. Deanna I’m off to your website next.Daniel, thanks for the links – I will have a listen. Thanks, L
October 21, 2010 at 9:27 am #268609
thomas brownParticipant(Briefly) I’ve been doing an annual Jazz Service for 20 years. I’ve written numerous arrangements. Spirituals and (joyful) hymns that “swing” well. Ballad settings of hymns like This Is My Father’s World, Near to the Heart of God, God of the Sparrow. Jazz waltz settings of Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee, Praise Ye the Lord the Almighty. Latin grooves on things like Gabarain’s “Lord, You have Come to the Lakeshore”. Obviously many/most hymns do NOT lend themselves to jazz styling so taste is important. IMO you have to work pretty hard to find (or create) good stuff that’s worthy/appropriate for worship. So, delving into sacred choral jazz is a bit labor intensive. On the other hand, our (otherwise traditional Presbyterian) congregation GREATLY enjoys “Jazz Sunday” and the service is fully worshipful and not merely an entertaining diversion. If you’re willing to include New Orleans styled Dixieland into your jazz complexion, definitely see Moses Hogan’s “Jesus on the Mainline” (Hal Leonard 08748485) and “Over in the Gloryland” (Hal Leonard 08748484). (Neither of these theologically profound but light-hearted, joyful). And inst pts are transcribed and available. I’ve published settings of This Little Light of Mine (Abingdon) and Walkin’ in the Wilderness (Shawnee). Contact me if you want to chat further about jazz in worship.Tom BrownAustin, TXNovember 3, 2010 at 12:17 pm #269650
Vijay SinghParticipantI might suggest a few of my sacred vocal jazz arrangements published through Sound Music Publications (SMP)…www.smpjazz.com…..these were all commissioned for church choirs who wanted to explore some jazz/Contemporary harmonies and style, and walk a nice line between choral and jazz:“Let Us Break Bread Together” – SATB w/piano,bass,drums (parts written out), swinger gospel style“Be Thou My Vision” – SATB a cappella, lovely“Steal Away” – SATB a cappella choral crossover style…beautiful“Were You There” – SATB a cappella choral crossover style…powerful“The Coventry Carol” – SATB a cappella holiday“Silent Night” – SATB a cappella holiday carol, crossover choral w/a bit of jazz harmonyGood luck!Vijay Singh, Composer/Arranger
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