This delightfully robust playlist is what happens when you make a Facebook post asking your friends for Thanksgiving songs. We ended up with over 53 songs that cover all the holiday bases. So whether you’re focused on the food, annoyed with relatives, happy in love, and just pissed at the coldness of the weather…we got you. Enjoy!
Friday night at Jazz at Lincoln Center I sat in a mezzanine box right above the edge of stage right. I could see the sweat on Wynton Marsalis’ brow, the second row of altos pass the microphone around, the white folx in the front row clapping reservedly and enthusiastically at the same time, and Damien Sneed’s facial expressions as he held a 70-piece choir, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, and all of us in the audience in the palms of his hand.
I was a part of the audience who was intimately familiar with the performance of black church liturgy.
We know when it’s okay to interject an “amen” or “well well” or “sang girl!”
We know how to finish the refrain, “god is good all the time and…”
As a woman raised in a Black Baptist church, I delighted when Rev. Calvin O. Butts rose to the “pulpit” to deliver the sermon and commanded the entire audience to “stand to our feet and give God some praise.” (If you’ve ever attended a Black church, you know that these are directives and not suggestions.) He didn’t stop there, he next told us to “turn to your neighbor” and say that, “It’s good to be in the house of God tonight.” His presence and performance literally, and fleetingly, transformed the Fredrick P. Rose Hall at Jazz at Lincoln Center into a Black Baptist church.
Despite that moment of transcendence my mind continued to consider the question, “What does it mean to do these performances in secular spaces?” I don’t have an answer. I know that lots of scholars have written about it, but I attempting to sort out how I felt about it. I also don’t mean that I feel good/bad or pro/con about these performances. I think that they’re complicated. My familiarity with the traditions allowed me to get “inside” of the Abyssinian Mass in ways that others might not be able. My familiarity also probably blinded me to some of the intricacies of the performance. I felt like I was engaging the mass on at least three levels: a person raised Baptist, a jazz lover, and an academic. But I didn’t firmly hang my hat on any of those perspectives.
I know that these out of church religious performances aren’t new. I had the Clara Ward Singers, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and Kirk Franklin in my mind. It’s not even new in jazz. I held Mahalia Jackson’s iconic, if not somewhat reluctant performance at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958 in the view. And to be sure, one reason Black church services are so riveting is because of ideas of “performance” and dramatic effect.
Nevertheless, every time I attend a spiritual performance that occurs outside of an explicitly spiritual context, I’m always curious about the perspective of the musicians as well as that of those who don’t share the same cultural or spiritual background.
Hopefully you get to experience The Abyssinian Mass in person, but if not, Damien Sneed takes the viewer through each movement of it on Youtube.
Watch Damien Sneed talk about The Abyssinian Mass here.