Monday, September 28, 2009

Cyrus Chestnut's album "You are my Sunshine"

If you like acoustic post bop or simply black gospel music, I think the music of pianist and composer Cyrus Chestnut is suitable for you. Considered as a major force in the evolution of jazz piano in the 21st century, Cyrus Chestnut has an unique and innovative sound, with a mix of different styles and genres, but always within of pure jazz. Cyrus is a very experienced jazz pianist, who has played with giants as Wynton Marsalis, Dizzy Gillespie, and Chick Corea.

Cyrus have various gospel jazz albums, and on this occasion I write about one of my favorites: You are my Sunshine. This album contain a good dose of hard bop, bebop, blues and gospel music. In fact, this album, apart of to have original compositions, you can find interesting versions of traditional hymns as Sweet hour of prayer or Precious Lord. This was the debut album of Cyrus in Warner Bros. label, in which expressed his faith in God and the deep joy that he feel when he plays. In words of Cyrus "It is an attempt to dig deep into the spiritual force that drives music".

In You are my Sunshine, the main goal of Cyrus is create an intimate an spiritual atmosphere, because he does not let the technical virtuosity exceeds the deep reflection and musical elegance. It's important to note the participation of bassist Michael Hawkins and drummer Neal Smith, who perfectly fit to the spirit of Cyrus in this gospel jazz project.

Cyrus Chestnut's official website:

Thursday, September 10, 2009

John Coltrane and his "Love Supreme"

To fully understand a musical work, it's necessary to know all the motivations and feelings of the composer. This is the case of the John Coltrane's album A Love Supreme, recorded in 1965, which besides being one of the most important and influential records in the jazz history, it has a very strong religious component. In words of Coltrane:
During the year 1957, I experienced , by the grace of God, a spiritual awakening which was to lead me to a richer, fuller and more productive life. At that time, in gratitude, I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music. I feel this has been granted through His grace.
Also he says:
This album is a humble offering to Him. An attempt to say "THANK YOU GOD" through our work, even as we do in our hearts and with our tongues. May He help and strengthen all men in every good endeavor.
It's not new that in days of bebop and hard bop, almost the majority of jazz musicians suffered drugs addictions; the cases of Charlie Parker or Miles Davis are very known. John Coltrane was not exception, and he suffered the ravages of heroin and alcohol, which affected his personal and artistic life. However, in 1957, thank spiritual conversion, he could left his old habits and recorded this album as a thanksgiving to God. It's also important mention that A Love Supreme marked the beginning of a new stage in the Coltrane's life, in which his only purpose will be a spiritual search through his music, a search of new harmonies and scales with deep religious meanings. In fact, after this album, Coltrane recorded another sacred albums, but already fully immersed in the world of free jazz.

A Love Supreme is a jazz suite, divided in four parts: Acknowledgement, Resolution, Pursuance and Psalm. The last part, Coltrane called "musical narration", because he plays the words of a poem that he dedicated to God, and it was including in the disc booklet. This poem ends with the following lines:

God breathes through us so completely ...
so gently we hardly feel it ... yet
it is our everything.
Thank you God.

Elation - Elegance - Exaltation
All from God.
Thank you God. Amen.

John Coltrane's tribute website:

Duke Ellington's Sacred Concerts

Lena Horne and Duke Ellington perform his first Concert of Sacred Music
at the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City, Dec. 27, 1965.

No doubt that Duke Ellington is one of the most influential musicians in the history of jazz. Standards as Take The "A" Train, Sophisticated Lady or many others are very known for jazz fans. However, his last years, in which Ellington dedicated himself to fused jazz with christian liturgy is not very much disclose; perhaps, because these works received mixes reviews. At that time, many people saw his sacred works as an attempt to reinforce commercial support for organized religion. However, Ellington didn't give importance to criticisms and performed his compositions in different places. In fact, he said that it was "the most important thing I've done"; because his sacred music was inspired in his entrenched christian roots.

Ellington's Sacred Music mix the swing of jazz and the seriousness of liturgical music, and It was wrote for jazz big band, vocal and instrumental soloists, gospel choir, and tap dancers.

  1. Concert of Sacred Music, performed in the Grace Cathedral, San Francisco in 1965 by the Duke Ellington's orchestra, featuring legends as Cootie Williams and Paul Gonsalves, with a mass choir.
  2. Second Sacred Concert, performed in 1968 at the Cathedral of St. John in New York and St. Mark's Cathedral in New Canaan, Connecticut.
  3. Third Sacred Concert, performed on October 24, 1973 at London's Westminster Abbey. The compositions were built around the voice of Alice Babs, the soulful baritone saxophone of Harry Carney, and Ellington himself on the piano.

Although some jazz purists consider that in these works are not the best compositions of Duke Ellington, in my opinion the fact is that through these compositions, with different less technical resources as a church choir and gospel soloists, Ellington achieves express his gratitude to God, even, transcend his own denomination (baptist) with a poignant universalism, because he wrote this works only for the glory of God.

Duke Ellington's tribute website: