Pioneering: A Kind of Jazz
It began with a conversation with a friend who is a jazz musician. Our talk came round to the album Kind of Blue by Miles Davis. ‘You’ve got to listen to this’, he said.
Kind of Blue is one of those pieces of music that changes things. It takes known ingredients, then does something with them that we perceive as miraculous. I want to suggest that the practice of improvisational jazz may be a fertile theme for pioneering mission in the 21st century.
I don’t mean the actual playing of jazz — although that might be part of the deal. But I am suggesting that the spirit and soul of improvisational jazz may offer us patterns and possibilities as we try to be people of the Christ in and for our fast-changing cultures.
One of the vital ingredients of great jazz music is a love for the tradition
One of the vital ingredients for creating great jazz music is a consciousness of, and a love for, the tradition. Kind of Blue was hugely innovative when it was created in 1959, but it was still jazz. It carried the stories, the forms and the spirit of the tradition from which it emerged and to which it gave itself. In our exploration of Pioneer Learning at Ridley Hall and in the Cambridge Theological Federation we encourage each other to rediscover the depth and wonder of the various Christian traditions from which we have come.
If the jazz of Kind of Blue reminds us to know and love our traditions it also calls us into improvisation. Each track on the album begins with a theme — but then moves in unexpected directions. Sound-paths open up that are still faithful to the spirit of the piece, but releasing the music to fly higher and further, to go to places that it may not have been before.
Each tradition will find its own unexpected but life-giving improvisations
In John’s Gospel Jesus asks Nicodemus to ‘be born from above’ and pictures this encounter with God as sensing and responding to the breeze. Imagine individuals and communities of Jesus consciously and happily rooted in a particular tradition — but also daring to be ‘born from above’, improvising new possibilities in their neighbourhood or network.
What will this look like? It’s delightfully hard to tell. Each tradition will find its own unexpected but life-giving improvisations. The jazz of a pioneering Christianity will be given colour, texture and shape by local setting, by the personality of the players, and by the ever-surprising Spirit of God.
Ian Adams, Tutor in Pioneer Learning and Context-based Training