An Evening of Jazz

Tuesday, February 25th was covered from head to toe in a drizzle, and by 10 AM my shoes were soaked. But the evening promised movement and music, so I pulsed around campus all day in anticipation. That night, the carriage house gradually transformed into a jazz lounge, with the keyboard waiting expectantly by the fireplace. Dr. Edgar and his fellow musicians arrived early, dropping pockets of premature jazz into the room as they settled into their roles for the evening.

           Around 50 people—Westminster students, staff, and family, as well as members of the broader community—had ventured out into the damp night for an evening of jazz hosted by P&R Publishing in celebration of the English translation release of Hans Rookmaker’s book, Jazz,Blues, and Spirituals. By 7 PM the room was crowded with diverse people fit for the occasion. Coffee and cheesecake were supplied in abundance. All that was missing was low-lighting and a layer of smoke hovering over the audience.

            As Dave Almack of P&R welcomed everyone to the event, those in the back scurried to furnish the space with chairs to accommodate the turnout. The crowd settled into their seats, and Dave gave the floor to the musicians. Edgar took his seat behind the keyboard and slipped into the first song, “Well You Needn't” by Thelonious Monk. Thomas J. Vonderahe brought in the double bass, and Kathleen Kilpatrick followed suit on the saxophone. The bandmates weaved in and out of their roles, trading leads as the music led. The group continued with “Django” by John Lewis, then concluded the first set with “Autumn Leaves” by Joseph Kosma. Dave dismissed the crowd to an intermission, to be followed by a brief interview with Edgar about Rookmaker’s book, to which Edgar wrote the foreword.

           After giving the attendees a second chance at the cheesecake and coffee, Dave called the room back to order for the interview. Edgar shared about his own experience with Rookmaker at L’Abri, tossing out some anecdotes about Rookmaker’s personal taste in jazz and areas in which the two friends disagreed. He also gave the audience a glimpse of the history of jazz, stating that the birth of the genre is linked closely with the arrival of the gospel to those enslaved in the American South. After briefly explaining the way the music grew out of antebellum American slave churches, Edgar pointed the audience to Rookmaker’s book to get the full story. The conclusion of the interview was followed by the band moving back in for a closing set. They sent the audience off with two traditional, “Lord Don't Move the Mountain" and “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah.”

            As I floated around after the show, I heard people discussing what they do and do not understand about jazz. I am not a music theorist or authority in the world of jazz, but I have always felt that it is an intensely human expression of music. It is full of dissonance and conflict.It grew from a culture of prolonged suffering, lives lived in that state of dissonance. But jazz is also an intensely redemptive expression of music. As dissonance and conflict are pulled back into resolution, a hope of a greater resolution carries on in its notes. That evening, the carriage house was packed with intensely human people longing after that greater resolution. Though it hasn’t come yet, I think everyone caught glimpses, in spite of the rain.

Rebecca Bailey graduated from Westminster Theological Seminary with a Master of Arts in Religion in 2020.

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