Sacred Swing: The Sacralization of Jazz in the American Bahá'í Community
Atkins, E. Taylor, 1967--
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Much modern jazz performance is imbued with religious significance or “sacred intentionality”, as revealed in the Bahá’í conceptions of jazz as a vehicle for worship and spiritual transcendence. Although earlier generations of believers objected to jazz because of its presumed moral and aesthetic poverty, jazz has become a staple in Bahá’í public culture and proclamation activities, partially due to the influence of prominent jazz musicians who became Bahá’ís, such as Dizzy Gillespie, James Moody, Flora Purim, and Tierney Sutton. Oral history and textual research are used to explore the dialectic between jazz and Bahá’í spiritual teachings and practices, the impact of the Faith’s theological and social doctrines on the creation of jazz music by its adherents, and conversely the effects of jazz on worship activities and religious identity in the American Bahá’í community. Musicians detect synergy between improvisation and spiritual searching, group interaction and selfless consultation, and jazz’s multicultural roots and Bahá’í emphasis on unity-in-diversity. The ambiguous aesthetic stature of jazz challenged individual believers and Bahá’í institutions to reconsider and expand their notions of what types of music are suitable for reverent worship, thus contributing to the maturation of this spiritual community’s inclusive ethos.