The Spirit of Esperanza Spalding
Effervescent Jazz-Pop Improvisation as Holy Communion
Sitting Together in Holy Communion
You get together [with] like-minded individuals and choose a piece of music . . . You sit together with this music on the stand, and you have to listen so carefully, breathe and be connected so intimately with everyone around you to balance all of the parts involved in bringing this piece to life. Amazingly, I realized through the process of exploring this music, that’s exactly what any ensemble player does in the jazz idiom, too.
-- Esperanze Spalding, NPR interview
Being Transported to Another Place
The spirited nature of her music is rooted, she says, in a similarly dynamic understanding of God "whose beauty, presences and effect in and on my life involes infinite inspiration, admiration, and wonder."...Esperanza Spalding’s intimate and passionate merger of instrument and song evokes a joining not unlike communion, becoming one body with musical forebears (Eddie Harris and Miles Davis), musical community in the present (Bobby McFerrin, the band, the audience) and the depth of her connection to God whose creative gifts overflow as healing and joy in the midst of it all. The word and sacrament of pop music gospel, sung and played for the sake of the gathered assembly of believers, a gathered assembly at the Grammys who despite their music industry status are nevertheless continually taken out of the moment and transported to that other place, a place where time shifts to no time and one can join in a communal experience of music with body and soul.
-- Christian Scharen, "Secular Music in Sacramental Theology" in Secular Music and Sacred Theology (ed. Tom Beaudoin)
A Christianity that refuses mastery
Hence, the genius of Esperanza’s art and how it can help us reimagine theology’s art.In Esperanza’s art jazz, less as a “tradition” and more as a malleable idiom one lives within, means surprise, or the possibility of the unforeseen, that can arise because of deep commitment to the music, the art, and the craft.
She suggests what may be called a jazz cadence for Christian theology. Such a theological poetics and aesthetics would need to reimagine tradition (I would do this in the direction of a scriptural discourse of “covenant”), it would need to think in tongues, it would have to exist pentecostally in ways akin to what I’ve talked about here, and finally it would have be Christian in a way that drinks deeply from the wells of love and not from the the noxious waters of fear—fear of loosing “our” culture. It must be a Christianity that refuses mastery.
-- J. Kameron Carter, Duke Divinity School