Corporate Salvation #2


Music has a deep power to move people.  David was a musician who soothed Saul when an evil spirit from God oppressed him.  David took up his amazing harp playing and poetics to bring Saul through these periods.  I think that music’s ability to transform can function as a parable to us about salvation in community.

By 1956 the seminal Jazz composer and orchestra leader Duke Ellington was waning. Big bands had fallen on hard times and Ellington was able to keep his going by preforming at skating rinks and traveling to Europe.  Jazz festivals were a relatively new concept and Duke was glad to headline jazz promoter George Wein’s Newport Festival in Rhode Island.

The set began with the Duke unable to find all of his band members for the early show.  After finding them for the closing set the new material played seemed to fall flat on the crowd.  People began to leave the concert at mid point.

Duke had worked on reinterpreting some old material before the Newport performance.  He had incorporated more saxophone solos into some 1940 tunes.  It was during a solo of one of those songs that everything changed.   The revamped solo was given to the tenor Saxophonist Paul Gonsalves and not the Ellington regular Johnny Hodges.  Ellington is believed to have told Gonsalves to blow as long as he felt like blowing when the solo came.

Gonsalves responded by one of the most amazing solos in Jazz history.  This culminated in a 27-chorus solo with only a bass as an accompaniment.  Other band members amazement is caught on record by yelling in the background, “Come on, Paul — dig in!  Dig in!”

The crowd erupted in spontaneous cheers and unhindered dancing.  People who had headed for the exits turned around and ran toward the stage to dance.  When the solo ended Gonsalves collapsed in exhaustion.

This was a turning point for Jazz, Duke Ellington, Jazz festivals and records (the recording of this concert turned out to be one of the most popular jazz records in history).

Music literally changed people’s directions in life and movement.  It shows how powerful the creative moment can be to transform us and all that surrounds us.  It also reminds me of Emma Goldman’s adroit observation, “A revolution without dancing is not a revolution worth having.”

So, I would like to posit this as a parable of salvation for our corporate bodies.  The creative (creation?) moment that changes our direction.  It can bring us from lethargy, nihilism, fear, anger, violence, degradation, triumphalism or oppression.  To me salvation must be bound up in Christ’s statement of purpose, “I come that you might have life and more abundantly.”  We participate in communities that have the opportunities and possibilities of rethinking supposedly intractable problems and insufferable histories.  Through grace we are given the challenge and hope of transforming our communities toward the love, peace and just spaces God gives to our imagination.


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