Jazz, today a broadly defined, global form of improvised music, remains a music between heaven and earth, with its roots in both nightclubs and churches. Jazz can be dance music, as well as music that triggers emotions, memories, and subjective images. It can also lead to experiences of transcendence. In which ways, though, do jazz artists connect their spiritual and religious experiences and beliefs with their individual musical language? In contrast to Western, composed sacred music, jazz generates religious meaning through its improvisatory practices, which unfold differently in each performance, depending on the performers, listeners, and performance spaces. Often, jazz musicians feel the poetic quality of their music to reside in the ambiguity and “fragile” religiosity of their music. This article discusses from a historical and contemporary perspective the “fragilization” processes at work in religiously inspired jazz. It distinguishes different levels of religious meaning, purpose, and spiritual experience. In so doing, it explores productive resonances between the characteristics of jazz and Paul Corrigan’s definition of “postsecular” American poetry written in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

The text of this article is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.