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December 12, 2013 / robinswood

Improvisation as an act of faith | an address


On Friday December 6, 2013 I delivered the keynote address at a colloquium entitled  Spirit(s) Improvise: A Symposium on Improvisation and Spirituality. Hosted by the Improvisation, Community and Social Practice project and held at the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre in Guelph, Ontario, the organizers described the purpose of the day as being to “explore the relationship between improvisation and spirituality.” “How can improvisation and spirituality, broadly defined as frameworks through which people imagine and enact alternative ways of being in the world, contribute to our understandings of imagination and creativity, community and space, and transcendence and hope?”

Not surprisingly my focus was on the life and work of John Coltrane, with particular emphasis on two pieces of music: “My Favorite Things” and “Ascension.” I also offered something of an extended reflection on James Baldwin’s remarkable jazz story, “Sonny’s Blues,” which I think every one who cares about improvisation, music, and words should read. The story appears in a number of anthologies of short stories – including The Jazz Fiction Anthology edited by Sascha Feinstein and David Rife – and in Baldwin’s 1965 collection, Going to Meet the Man.

  • You can hear the audio of the address by clicking the arrow:

In the course of the address, I played a brief two-minute video of the bassist Reggie Workman telling a story of a gig he played back in the early 1960s when he was with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. While Workman’s voice from the video is quite audible in the lecture audio, I’d highly recommend taking a look at the video itself.

Thanks to event organizers Lauren Levesque and Chris Tonelli, and to ICASP Project Director Dr. Ajay Heble, for their generous hospitality. It was good for a priest/theologian to test his ideas and reflections in such a diverse group of scholars!


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