Third Thursday Jazz

Fifteen years ago, Sunday nights were synonymous with jazz. A group of us often descended the concrete steps, moving in time to the thump of the bass, the music that beckoned us underground to a swaying world of smoke and rhythm and sweat. It was an overdose of sensation: sound, smell, motion, taste. Glorious and fleeting, I can still hear the crooning voices, still see the plucking strings, the amalgamation of colors on skin. It was authentically unadorned jazz: Black Dog. The only consolation when it closed was that I wouldn’t get lung cancer from second hand smoke inhalation after all.

For my husband’s birthday this year, we went to Scat Jazz Lounge, now the only jazz club in Fort Worth. It was our second time to give it a try. Dark and underground, nothing else would resemble the Black Dog days. The environment felt sterile in comparison. A high cover charge combined with a touristy environment keeps it trendy and homogeneously white. No smoke, no swaying, no blaring trumpet or cheap drinks, no black people and sadly, no jazz. Instead, quiet bands play elevator music in the background, taking record long breaks between sets, while cell phone screens light the place as people take selfies with their fancy drinks. As we left, I thought to myself, there is no more jazz in Fort Worth.

Two weeks later, and to celebrate my own birthday, a friend invited me to try the Third Thursday Jazz series put on by the Fort Worth Public Library with her. The idea of jazz inside a library was a bit confusing to me, but we went, not knowing what to expect, but certainly telling ourselves it wouldn’t be much, and quite possibly, it would just be us and a smattering of others at best. But as we made our way through the foyer, we were met with a crowd surrounding the opening to the room. We were informed it was standing room only. Four hundred seats were already taken, and every open space against the walls were occupied. And there, with the sun pouring in from the glass domed ceiling, people fanning themselves in the stuffy heat of summer evening, the sounds of jazz permeated, filling up every empty space. The women swayed, snapping their fingers to the beat, the men shifting side to side in rhythm, feet tapping, couples dancing, heads nodding, voices joining in affirmation. A kaleidoscopic depiction of our city- old, young, poor, affluent, with every color on the spectrum present. These people were here for the music; my heart was singing!

Black Dog was a glorious anomaly. But this is beautiful in its own way, and it beats the hell out of Scat Jazz Lounge. It is lacking in ambiance: folding chairs, bright light, kids playing, no Long Island Iced Tea in your hand…but in between the monologues, it is real jazz. Free jazz. So if you are homesick for propulsive rhythm and improvisational melody, or just want to experience a multicultural event in a highly segregated city, come join on August 16th or September 20th: 6:30 at the Central Library. I hope to be at both.

[In trying to find some archives of Black Dog, I came across this blog post. For those of you who used to attend, it will make you smile.]

The Art that Pours In

Everyone gets asked the question: What is your favorite album of all time? And we always want to set some parameters- am I stranded on a desert island? Is it all I can listen to for the rest of my life? Because even the best can get old.

But I recently listened to an album the other day- my answer to the question- and realized that unlike most music I was obsessed with in my teenage years, this one has lasted through decades. I think, in fact, that if I had come across this music at any point in my life, I would have loved it, because it touches somewhere deep inside. This one doesn’t just connect me to one time in my life: it transcends people, place, and circumstance to continue to speak to me where I am. It spoke to me then; it speaks more to me now. The words are poetry. I learn something new every time I sing, and when it’s over, I’ve been seen and felt and understood. I have experienced connection, the foundational goal of art.

As a writer, I believe beauty has to be discovered before it can be created. We are not God. We don’t create something out of nothing. We discover something, and create something else. We require inspiration. This is why writers are readers. This album, along with countless others, but this album in particular, inspires me to create. I fill in the gaps of each song with a story, and then another, and another, because they give me the freedom to. The lyrics paint pictures enticing me to paint more:

When I think of heaven
deliver me in a black-winged bird
I think of dying
Lay me down in a field of flame and heather
Render up my body into the burning heart of God
in the belly of a black-winged bird

And this particular album is a two-disc live album in which the songs that are repeated vary significantly from one disc to the other. Our art is always shifting, and I am reminded when I hear these double versions, that my writing is never dead. I have watched, this semester in particular, the evolution of my work, and taken joy in its different facets. Revision can be a burden, but it is also freeing to know that there is no final destination in which the words cease to grow. We are, my words and me, never arriving. That is a humble and good place to be.

This album encourages the artist in me and the humanity. It sings me Beauty….enjoy.

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(Click the album to hear it for free on Spotify.)

Music that Moves

I have three little girls. Two of them are extremely high-energy. (Read that how you want. It’s probably true.) And two of them love music. We try to use every part of life to teach them about the Lord, and music is an easy one. The Austin Stone will always hold a dear place in my heart. It was there for us when we desperately needed it. My mom gifted me their new kids’ album and we all love it. All of us. Their website has each of the songs available to listen to for free, or you can get it on iTunes or Amazon. For weeks now we have been belting out these songs with fists in the air, or hands clapping, bouncing in the seats of the car. It has been joy, joy, joy! Then I found that each song has an accompanying dance video! This morning we stretched, got it up on the big screen, and danced through the entire album! We talked about how this is one way we can worship God in truth with our voices, our bodies, and our minds. Every part of us participating in the glorifying of God. The kids had a blast. And so did I. Give it a try!

 

Besides the free content on The Austin Stone’s website, there are other great resources available like chord charts, the theology behind each song, and a family worship guide to go along with the album.

[I’ve written before about how we’ve used Dana Dirksen’s music to teach theological truth to the kids. Questions with Answers: Volumes 1-3 have been family transforming. The Village Church’s kids albums have also been huge in shaping their understanding of the Lord, both at home, and of course, along with the lessons at church. I would highly recommend them both to you!]

Missy Higgins: Forgive Me

Missy is one of my favorite songwriters. A gifted storyteller, she blends word and sound to create a beautiful and moving impression. She can excite me to action, rest me to sleep, or as in this song, kneel me down. It brings goosebumps and tears.