‘Tis The Season For Jazz And Jesus

Vince Guaraldi Trio
Vince Guaraldi Trio

Everybody loves jazz and Jesus at Christmas time. They both start popping up in random advertisements, retail stores and restaurants everywhere in December. Once again, we drive past illuminated, plastic nativities to the sound of a swing beat on a ride cymbal.  And we go shopping and drink hot Chocolate with the subtle dissonance of major seventh chords ringing in our ears.  Most people probably don’t even realize that about 70% of the Christmas music that they are hearing is some form of jazz. They just know that it sounds like “Christmas Music” and it makes them feel relaxed and happy, and perhaps gives them the urge to buy stuff. Even the top 40 radio stations push aside Katy Perry for a little while to make room for Bing Crosby and Ella Fitzgerald at Christmas. I actually saw Jimmy Buffet on the Today show this morning singing “Winter Wonderland” with a live jazz ensemble.  Seriously, Jimmy Buffett is now a Jazz artist. It’s a Christmas miracle!

A couple of years ago, we had some friends over for dinner (not in December) and I happened to have some jazz playing quietly in the background. And one of our guests said, “Ooh, it sounds like Christmas.”  I wanted to say “Your ugly sweater reminds me of Christmas too” but I resisted the urge and forgave the offense. It’s not really her fault anyway. For most people, the only jazz they will ever hear is Christmas music or whatever is playing in the background at a “classy” restaurant (or maybe Frank Sinatra songs playing at Fazoli’s).

The truth is, most people don’t like jazz, they just like sentimentality. They like the memories and feelings associated with Christmas and jazz has become a part of that in our culture. It’s not that different from the way most people feel about Jesus. They break out the nativity in December and maybe even attend a church service or two. They watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and hear Linus read the story from Luke, chapter two. Which could be the most exposure to the Bible they have had since last year. And in January, Jesus is boxed up with the Santa hats and lighted reindeer and thrown into the attic until next year.  He may occasionally show up in the background of their life, but there is no real affection for him. Because the truth is, most people don’t like Jesus, they just like sentimentality.

As a follower of Jesus and a fan of Jazz, the Christmas season always leaves me with mixed emotions. On one hand, I love the music and I love celebrating the birth of the Savior each year. But on the other hand, it’s very discouraging and deeply offensive to see these things used in manipulative marketing ploys and as mere sentimental fixtures for a fixed time of the year. It is my love for these things that inspires my enjoyment of this season and not the other way around. It’s a crucial distinction.

So, if you are one of these people who only love jazz and Jesus at Christmas, I want you to give something a try this year. Sometime in January, after the decorations are all back in their boxes and the radio stations cut the holiday songs and restart their usual cycle of intellectually stimulating music like “I Whip My Hair Back And Forth.” Carve out some time and throw on Miles Davis’ album “Kind Of Blue” and start reading the rest of the book of Luke, the part beyond chapter two. They are both beautifully deep and complex while being simultaneously approachable and relatable. You may find that you come to love jazz as the art form that it is and Jesus as the true Lord that He is and not just as seasonal novelties.

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