Where Jazz Meets the Ministry

Most people are surprised to learn that the guy sitting at their table in a noisy jazz club is a minister. But as both a jazz musician and the senior pastor of First Congregational Church UCC of Atlanta, the Rev. Dwight D. Andrews gets this reaction a lot.

At 2 p.m. August 22 in the Hall of Philosophy, Andrews and Chautauqua Institution organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music Jared Jacobsen will discuss “The Theological and Social Evolution of Liturgical Hymns” and various styles of American music and how they reflect U.S. culture. Their lecture is the first in the Week Nine Interfaith Lecture Series themed “America’s Spiritual Songbook.”

“Music mirrors who we are — at any point in time. I think the music provides a powerful commentary about who we are as a people, as a community,” Andrews said. “And what I hope to raise as an issue … is given our music in our cultural world today: What does that say about who we are as a people?”

Andrews grew up in Detroit experiencing all different types of music traditions, including chamber ensembles, rock ‘n’ roll and jazz.

Andrews, who is serving as the Week Nine chaplain at Chautauqua, trained to be a professional musician by achieving bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music from the University of Michigan. His instruments were the clarinet and saxophone.

“I just really was fascinated by the ways in which all of these different communities had these wonderful musical traditions, which all can be attributed to what I now understand to be American music,” Andrews said. “So I got a chance to see that up close as a young musician, and I think I’ve been passionate about it ever since.”

Andrews became involved in civil rights activism, which eventually drove him toward ministry, and he enrolled in Yale Divinity School. He said music and ministry combined to become two vocations.

“Music has such power, and I don’t think I fully understood that until I really started working in pastoral ministry, and then I literally just brought the jazz and rock ‘n’ roll and everything else along with me,” Andrews said. “I think it’s been a wonderful way to communicate with different communities, to help us discover our oneness really more than our differences.”

Music became a way for Andrews to express his faith. Andrews said people often think jazz is too secular or worldly, and not spiritual, but he disagrees.

“I can literally be a living example of a minister who also plays jazz and who also has a way to articulate the spiritual dimension of jazz in my performance and in my support of other jazz musicians,” Andrews said. “So my faith literally just takes advantage, I guess, of my musical background, so it becomes another part of my being an ambassador for Christ, but sometimes in unexpected ways.”

Andrews said he is bringing his horn to today’s lecture, although it intimidates him to play in front of Chautauqua’s musically talented audience.

The lecture will focus on “the combination of music and meaning.”

“[Andrews and I will be] exploring the phenomenon that happens when you combine words and melodies together to create something much more profound than its component parts,” Jacobsen said. “We will be dissecting some well-known, timeless spirituals, then recombining them for and with the audience.”

Madison Rossi

The author Madison Rossi

Hailing from Chicago, Madison Rossi is the 2016 Interfaith Lecture preview reporter. She is a class of 2018 journalism major at Northwestern University with minors in marketing and religious studies.