CJA Network Newsletter Featured InterviewApril/May
when did you develop a love for jazz music?
found me! In high school (Downingtown, PA, near
Philadelphia) I was exposed to it in a variety of ways.
Our band director took us to see the big bands of Buddy
Rich, Maynard Ferguson and Stan Kenton. (This was the
mid-70s!) There was a wonderful public radio station in
Philadelphia, WRTI-FM, that played traditional “hard core” jazz 24/7 and I
played that station all the time in my room. When I was
a sophomore, a senior named Chet Smith, who was really
into jazz organ and vibes, got an ensemble of students
together to play some jazz fusion and R&B, like
“Chameleon” and “Watermelon Man”. That hooked me! He got
me started listening to musicians like Groove Holmes,
Jimmy Smith, Lionel Hampton, the MJQ, etc.
2) Who are some of your
favorite and most influential jazz artists?
listened to a lot of Sonny Rollins in high school—I had
his “Saxophone Colossus” record and that was among my
favorites at that time. Another favorite was Charlie
Parker’s “The Savoy Sessions”. I used to play along with
that one every chance I could. I also developed an
affinity for avant-garde jazz in high school—I dug Cecil
Taylor, Anthony Braxton, Ornette Coleman and the Art
Ensemble of Chicago. In college I listened to Dexter
Gordon, Johnny Griffin and John Coltrane. During my
college days, Dexter and Johnny were making a comeback
State-side, having lived in Europe for many years. I was
fortunate to see them both play in 1978. Oh, and I can’t
omit Michael Brecker, a fellow IU alum (though 10 years
my elder). His larger-than-life legend lives on! He can
play anything he can hear.
3) It seems as though
jazz music is once again making a comeback in churches
across America and Europe. One theory why this is
happening is that it is a reaction to the overdose of
Alternative rock music from the CCM industry. Many
people I talk to are tired of much of the same
style…what are your thoughts concerning this?
profess to have an up-close perspective on European
church worship styles, though I’ve witnessed influential
worship leaders like Matt Redman and Tim Hughes who are
using pop and rock-based styles to great acclaim
worldwide. A substantial part of what I do at Word Music
is to keep my eye on worship trends in the North
American evangelical church. From my perspective, with
regard to the evangelical church’s “musical worship
vocabulary” the alt-rock influence is very strong right
now and is continuing to gain in strength. I see jazz,
because it’s viewed (rightly or wrongly) as more
cerebral, less congregationally participatory, and more
“worldly” than other musical styles, as a hard-sell in
most evangelical churches. I certainly would be
sympathetic to the view that our churches’ musical
worship vocabularies tend to be far too narrow and
homogenous and are, perhaps, excessively fueled by the
alt-rock sounds found throughout Western pop culture.
I think jazz,
used as one of the colors in one’s musical palette, can
and should be a refreshing and stimulating means of
musical worship. I think an “all-jazz, all-the-time”
approach would wear thin. The key is balance and
variety! Churches that have a heart for worship and
evangelism through the arts—and those that do it well
are relatively rare—are, in my opinion, the
best-positioned to tastefully weave jazz tastefully into
the fabric of a worship service.
4) Of course some
churches view jazz with a wary eye…jazz for some
conjures up thoughts like smoky night clubs, sex, and
drugs instead of being the very deep spiritual music
that it is. What is your take on this?
boils down to context, then to the godly exercise of
freedom in community with other believers. In 1
Corinthians 8, Paul taught about food sacrificed to
idols. I think there’s a lesson to be gleaned from that
passage regarding jazz in worship services. The
similarities are quite interesting. Jazz has, in many
respects, bowed at the altar of sensuality and
self-indulgence, thus the images conjured up at the
sounds of an alto sax lip-slide or a C minor nine/sharp
that, in essence, everything is good when God’s in it
but that some individuals have weaker consciences or
differing vantage points, and they should be respected,
also. We musicians and worship leaders should tread
lightly in this area! I don’t think that precludes us,
however from gently and lovingly stretching the musical
borders of those in our flock, as long as God is, in
fact, in it, and it’s not a by-product of my own agenda.
of God is that He always works from a well thought-out
plan, yet He also values spontaneity. His is a world
which deftly balances the predictable and the
miraculous, the mundane and the awe-inspiring, the
physical and the spiritual. Aren’t those qualities part
of the essence of a good jazz solo? Continuing that
thought, I think liturgy without spontaneity—without the
direct participation of the Holy Spirit, who naturally
isn’t always beholden to our agenda or timetable—is
dead. I’d like to think God created us to value and
appreciate well-thought-out, Spirit-led expression of
joyful—or soulful—musical expression through jazz. While
that probably happens outside of church more often than
inside, it that doesn’t invalidate the music.
5) We have been
conducting a survey and asking everyone what their
definition of Jazz music is? Let’s hear yours!
At its best,
Jazz Music is a spontaneous dialogue of one’s spirit,
soul and body expressed through the syntax of historic
and contemporary African-American musical tradition.
6) You have a new Smooth
Jazz CD release, “The Power Of Your Love” which covers
both Hymns and worship choruses in a variety of styles.
Tell us more about this project.
This CD was
literally a labor of love! The project evolved over
about a two-year period. I started compiling a list of
hymns and praise and worship songs that were meaningful
to me, and that I thought had real substance musically
and spiritually. I’d had exposure to several of the
original versions of these while producing anthem
recordings at Word Music, and so was in a great position
to “repurpose” the master recordings for my project.
That helped make the budget work!
7) What other musicians
played on this CD… (the horn players are great and
charts available for selected songs through Word Music)
Here is a link to hear audio examples:
backing tracks feature a “who’s who” of studio players
in the Nashville area: John Hammond (drums), Craig
Nelson (bass), David Cleveland and Mark Baldwin
(guitar), David Huntsinger and David Hamilton
(keyboards), and so on. Horn players include Mike Haynes
and Jeff Bailey (trumpet), Chris McDonald (trombone) and
Sam Levine (sax, woodwinds).
8) Any plans for playing
material from this CD in churches, Jazz Vespers, ect?
(If so I would like to book you!!)
I’m glad you
asked! I’m slowly gearing up to get the word out that
I’m available to play in churches, as well as conduct
clinics for worship bands, teach about worship issues,
that sort of thing. I’m launching a website this summer:
markmccluremusic.com, which I hope will help coordinate
all of this.
9) Mark, do you get a
chance to play jazz music in churches or other venues in
the Nashville area? Part of the strategy of the CJA
Network is to encourage Christian Jazz Artists to make
it happen where they are (you know, “Takin’ It To The
Streets”) by playing in coffee houses, organizing jazz
vespers and Christian jazz concerts. Any plans in the
works for you to do this?
I play in a
couple of local churches now and then, but usually as a
member of a praise band. However, this past Easter I
played one of the songs from my CD, “Let It Rise” live
World Outreach Church
in Murfreesboro. They book the MTSU arena every Easter
and stage quite a production. It was a rush playing for
over 8,000 people that morning! I’m certainly open to
playing in more churches . . .Years ago I was a “weekend
warrior” and played every kind of gig imaginable:
Ringling Bros., the Temptations and Four Tops, touring
Broadway shows . . . those days are long gone. On top of
that, I like being in my home church (Belmont Church in
Nashville) as much as I can, after over 20 years in
10) Share with us your
most memorable musical experience playing at a church
memorable experience for me occurred last summer at my
home church, Belmont Church. The congregational worship
music was going full-bore when suddenly and
unexpectedly, the power for the entire building was cut
off. For the next 30 minutes we had a Church of Christ
worship experience that was quite moving. It was really
inspiring to see the congregation step up to the plate
and take responsibility for worshiping, rather than
being on autopilot and observing the worship team and
11) Out of all the
songs you have ever heard or played share with us one
song that has really touched you in a profound way.
have to be the hymn, “O, the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus”.
The words and music are haunting and powerful. A couple
of years ago I played that on soprano
sax—unaccompanied--at a retreat for artists and other
creative types. It lends itself well to jazz soloing,
and I like the plaintive side of the hymn—it’s really
uplifting, even though it’s in a minor key.
12) Mark, you have been
a music minister in a very wide variety of
denominations. From Assembly Of God to Episcopal…both
charismatic and liturgical. Was that by choice or what?
I’ll have to
save some of the details for my book. Seriously, most of
it was by choice, but God opened and closed doors as He
saw fit. I definitely couldn’t have orchestrated the
“crazy-quilt” that is my professional/pastoral resume!
My reason for coming to Nashville in 1996 was to serve
as the Worship Coordinator for St. Bartholomew’s
Episcopal Church. I had previously been a music minister
in an A/G church in
Southern California, and was ready for a change of scenery. “St. B’s”, as it’s
known locally, was every bit the challenge I thought it
would be—and then some!
13) What is one of the
most important things that you learned from crossing
important lesson I’ve learned from crossing
denominational lines is that whether high church, low
church or in-between, this generation has a hunger for
God that transcends divisions and boundaries like never
before in history. There is indeed a “melting pot”
effect with respect to worship style and practice in the
Western church which I find very encouraging. I think
that’s creating a ripe atmosphere where people are more
receptive to a wider variety of musical styles than ever
information on Mark McClure can be found by following