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.
Fragile Faith: The Jazz Stage as a Space for Religious Imagination in a Postsecular World
Uwe Steinmetz is a Berlin-based saxophonist who has performed his own music on four continents and has received national and international awards for his artistic work. He has released fourteen CDs with his own music and appeared on numerous jazz CDs as a soloist. In his compositional work he often deals with biblical or theological themes, and he has appeared on panels and television documentaries about improvised music, church music, and theology. Since 2015 he has held a teaching and research position at the German Liturgical Institute at Leipzig University for music and worship. His research and publications focus on the interaction of Christian spirituality and jazz.
Uwe Steinmetz; Fragile Faith: The Jazz Stage as a Space for Religious Imagination in a Postsecular World. Poetics Today 1 September 2020; 41 (3): 417–436. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/03335372-8519656
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