The church flow visits Dixieland

in originalmusic •  2 months ago 

One of the things I love about being an African American composer and songwriter is being able to compose across an abundance of styles for the children and youth's choir I have charge of at my church, and also for a community children's choir I work with several times a year. The above song is two years old almost exactly, and here is how I know that.

When I was injured in 2017, I spent all of April in skilled nursing owing to the severity of my injury. While there I kept up with church life by listening to sermons on my phone, and on one day very like this one, I was listening to a sermon on John 11, which is the story of the resurrection of Lazarus by the Lord Jesus Christ. At one point in the dialogue the Lord Jesus said to Lazarus's sister Martha, "I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live, and he that liveth and believeth in me hath everlasting life. Believest thou this?" That's John 11:35, and the question is still open for many ...

But not for me. I am a Christian, and I found that passage very encouraging as I continued to face a new temporal life of relatively long-term disability. I thought about it and went to sit in my favorite spot... and then started to hear music...

Although jazz is not my main thing, I do love and play stride piano and incorporate it into almost everything UNLESS I am indulging my love of Dixieland jazz. Think New Orleans, and its sound, and Louie Armstrong, and a lot of his sound -- such is the legacy of Dixieland, which was the style of jazz from about 1920 to 1930 (overlapping the end of ragtime, the beginning of swing, and the total period of what is called classic blues -- think Bessie Smith). This is the era when tuba was in its jazz prime as the bass instrument UNLESS there was a stride pianist or very brave ragtime pianist in the house giving the tuba a bit of a run for its money. That stride sound carries over into the Dixieland bands, along with some phenomenal bass lines that the tuba players of the day gave to the world.

I love bass lines. I listen for them and they drive a great deal of my composition, although that may or may not be obvious in the finished product. It is sort of like building a house... you may not always notice or think of the foundation, but you certainly FEEL the stability it gives the house when things get to moving ... storms, floods, earthquakes (hello, fellow Californians).

In the case of music, most music is about movement, and the reason that most music has a sense of satisfying movement is because of solid rhythmic patterns and harmonic progression. The bass line captures BOTH, providing a foundation for the harmony and usually providing rhythmic stability. Throw some good counterpoint in there (a "walking" bass) and you REALLY have something special -- a singular line providing rhythm, harmony, and melody.

Did I mention that I love bass lines? That fact explains why I am equally a lover of the first movement of Beethoven's "Moonlight" Sonata and of stride piano and of Dixieland, with its celebration of that brassy bass instrument, the tuba... and MoTown, with James Jamerson working all those amazing bass lines in on the electric bass ... and Bach's fugues, because he gets on down to the root of things with his fabulous counterpoint from the top to the bottom.

SO: when I compose, you can sometimes hear it all... and if you were able to be at my church next Sunday, you would hear the above song with me on the piano and a tuba and a children's choir and drums and all of Dixieland jazz's exuberance, all put to celebrating the One Who said, "I am the Resurrection and the Life ... believeth thou this?" There is definitely JOY in the yes...

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