[Dixielandjazz] Book Review-- Spirits Rejoice! Jazz and American Religion

Norman Vickers NVickers1 at cox.net
Thu Jun 18 18:26:40 PDT 2015

To: DJML;  Musicians and Jazzfans list

From: Norman Vickers, Jazz Society of Pensacola


This book review will be posted on the website of the Jazz Society of
Pensacola www.jazzpensacola.com.  Reading is optional, as always.  It's not
an easy book to read as jazz is difficult to define and religion and
spirituality are, perhaps, even moreso.  Author Jason Bivins has feet in
both camps as he's a professor of religious studies and a jazz guitarist.  I
pass along for interest and possible comment.








F. Norman Vickers

June 22 2015


SPIRITS REJOICE!; Jazz and American Religion

Jason C. Bivins; Oxford University Press

pp. 369 with bibliography and index C2015



There's a story, likely apocryphal , that a rural preacher started his
sermon with these words:

"Today I will attempt to explain the unexplainable and unscrew the
unscrewtable!"  In some ways trying to explain jazz-those of us who are
heavily involved still struggle with a precise definition-and then trying to
explain religion,  in all its myriad forms, is a formidable task.


James C. Bivins, the author, has unique qualifications in that he is an
accomplished jazz guitarist and professor of religious studies at North
Carolina State University.


The first portion of the book gives some views on jazz and its relationship
to religion.  This was the most difficult portion of the book for me, and I
suspect for most general readers.  Later he discusses religious concepts and
spiritual attitudes of individual artists including John and Alice Coltrane,
Mary Lou Williams and Ornette Coleman, plus many others.  Many of the
musicians discussed came from religious-many from Pentecostal-backgrounds.
Some contemporary musicians he interviewed directly, some over a period of
several years. There are many direct quotes from the musicians as they
attempt to explain their inspiration, especially improvisation.
Spirituality and religion take many forms for these musicians from
Christianity, Muslimism to Sufism and Baha'i, Dizzy Gillespie's choice.
There's even mention of Scientology.


The book is well edited and the index and bibliography are both extensive.
The book should appeal to those, like the author, with interest both in
jazz, religion and/or spirituality.





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