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May 1, 2013 / robinswood

“Fridays with Friends” | an interview

A few weeks back I was interviewed by Kelly Belmonte for a really fine blog called “All Nine.” Here’s a couple of excerpts from that interview, which you can read in its entirety by clicking here.


Kelly Belmonte: What/Who/where are your consistent sources of inspiration? (i.e. What inspires you?)

Jamie Howison: Music is a great source of inspiration, and has been since I first discovered pop radio at the age of eleven. All through high school, university, and seminary some variation of rock music provided a soundtrack for my life. And I do mean a soundtrack, and not simply background music. My spiritual and theological views were deepened by people like Bruce Cockburn, my social consciousness raised by The Clash, and my world-view expanded by songwriters such as Tom Waits, Nick Cave, and Patti Smith.

About fifteen years ago I began to really discover jazz, and it has become the soundtrack of my middle age. The “gateway drug” was Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, but it wasn’t long before I discovered John Coltrane; the jazz world’s theological musician par excellence. His music isn’t always easy to absorb, but nine times out of ten it is worth the effort. In fact Coltrane’s record A Love Supreme may rival Robert Farrar Capon’s books as being the most powerful proclamation of sheer grace.

KB: What current (still alive) artists (musicians, poets, painters, photographers, filmmakers, etc, etc…. of any kind) are you following/do you recommend?

JH: The research for my book took me deep into the work of several key writers, all of whom I can very confidently recommend. Two in particular spring to mind: Jeremy Begbie on music and theology, and Calvin Seerveld on the arts and Christian thought. I’ve also continued to explore the work of two significant African-American scholars, James Cone and Cornel West. Cone’s book The Spirituals and the Blues is such an important book, particularly for Christians who want to explore the social, religious, and political roots of popular music. And as for Cornel West, by turns his writing makes me laugh with delight and shudder with deep concern. The man writes (and speaks…) with all of the cadences of a great jazz player.

I’m also convinced that we shouldn’t neglect reading novels… “we” meaning people of faith in general, and clergy in particular. I’m a big fan of Ron Hansen, particularly of Mariette in Ecstasy, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and his most recent novel A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion. Hansen is a Christian (a Roman Catholic deacon, in fact), but his work is certainly not what one typically thinks of as being “Christian fiction.”

As for music, I find the improvisational genius of the Wayne Shorter Quartet simply exhilarating. Though Shorter self-identifies as a Buddhist, the other members of the quartet come with a Christian heritage, and the bass player John Patitucci is even a deacon in his Presbyterian church. Even though it sounds like a cliché, I’d have to say that while the quartet’s work is by no means “religious,” it is a very spiritual music. I’m also a big fan of the way in which The Vijay Iyer Trio, The Bad Plus, and E.S.T. have all taken the legacy of the pianist Bill Evans and his brilliant early 60s trio and moved it forward in fresh ways.


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