Love, Peace, Soul: Gospel-Inspired Jazz

Paul Harvey

Here's a nice radio piece covering a couple of recent jazz CDs which merge jazz and gospel: Don Byron's Love, Peace, and Soul and the bass/piano duet of Charlie Haden and Hank Jones (shortly before the 91 year old Jones's death) on Come Sunday.

The piece about Byron comes with a nice intro from Charles Mingus's Better Git It in Your Soul, a kind of predecessor to the genre Byron is working in. I wasn't familiar with Byron's CD until this short review, anxious to hear the rest now.

By contrast, I've seen Hank Jones and Charlie Haden plenty of times, but never together. Jones grew up the son of a Baptist deacon, and Haden is a fascinating figure, part of a family singing country performing group growing up whose tunes were broadcast on a radio station in Shenandoah, Iowa. Somehow or other from there, he got hooked up with the saxophonist and jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman, who was pushing the boundaries of jazz in the early 1960s. Since then he's been in every conceivable sort of group, and his daughters brought him back to some of his country roots in the recent CD Rambling Boy (an album of southern folk and country classics, starting with "Single Girl, Married Girl" and going on to "Wildwood Flower" and "20/20 Vision").

Most recently, just before Hank Jones's death, the two got together again (they first hooked up in a 1995 release) to record a set of gospel tunes, and the ease of both with the history of the music shines clearly. Anybody who's read any of my scholarship knows my long interest in the crossscurrents of white and black religious musical traditions, and here those currents meld beautifully into one.

Check out this "first listen," excerpted below:

It's music Jones heard and sang as a child in Pontiac, Mich., where he grew up. Haden sang this music, too — from the other side of the color line — as part of the Haden Family, which brought gospel to Iowa radio stations. As Georgetown University professor Maurice Jackson writes in his liner notes to both Steal Away and Come Sunday, blacks and whites sang the hymns included on these albums, but the spirituals came from the African and African-American experience and their meaning extends beyond religion. They're songs of struggle and the quest for freedom.
Bohemian composer Antonin Dvorak understood the importance of this music. Haden and Jones play their interpretation of his "Going Home" on Come Sunday, and Jackson includes a prescient quote from the composer in the liner notes: "This must be the real foundation of any serious and original school of composition to be developed in the United States. ... These are the folk songs of America, and your composers must turn to them."
Hearing Jones and Haden play this music with such simple grace and power, you know Dvorak was right. 
And while we're at it, let's go out on some Mingus. I was asking around in class the other day and not a single student there had ever heard of Mingus, much less could name a single tune by him. How many had heard of the annoyingly ubiquitous Adele? Take a wild guess, or just ask Ed Blum. 


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