I admit that I don’t know a whole lot about jazz music. But one thing I do know is that a good jazz musician understands how to improvise and make things work, when and where they seemingly shouldn’t. When I was studying music theory in college, I learned that there were certain types of chord progressions that sounded natural and others that didn’t. The ones that didn’t progress to some natural resolution sounded out of place, unnatural, and required additional strategy to make the musical patterns sound right.

Sometimes our faith and our career take us to a place that feels unnatural, perhaps even a little uncomfortable. We may not quite be able to put our finger on it, but something feels uneasy, or not quite right. Music can feel/sound the same way if the chord/note patterns don’t flow in a logical progression that sounds “right” for our Western trained ears.  As with all music theory rules, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the musical pattern that is established, but the natural inclination is to resolve the chord pattern to where it sounds “right” again.

So, what do our careers, faith, and jazz have in common? The short answer…at some point we may find ourselves stuck and we have to improvise, rely on what feels right, and in some cases, break a few theoretical rules in order to resolve the situation.

We have this mindset that our careers should take us to some logical place. Just as in music, there is supposed to be a logical progression of patterns and steps that make sense. If you’re the kind of person that lets your faith guide you, there may be some unexpected turns and twists along the way, but in the end, you find yourself in the right place. And finally jazz… there are certain “theoretical rules” that are typically followed, but due to the art of improvisation, we may hear and experience an unexpected musical pattern of artistry that awakens our senses and invigorates us along the way.

The story behind the arrangement of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot that accompanies this blog post, is that I needed to change things up a bit. The melody had been floating around in my head and I was having fun with it. I was supposed to sing a more traditional church piece, but at the last minute, the regular accompanist was unavailable. So, I had to improvise. Fortunately, the music director, an extremely talented jazz musician and bass player, was open to the idea of the Swing Low, Sweet Chariot improvisation. We met for a brief rehearsal, included the drums on Sunday morning, and we went for it.

I’m sure there were some that Sunday morning in church who probably didn’t appreciate the arrangement, but what came from this non-traditional improvisation was a freedom and joy of expression that had been missing for me from worship. Swing Low, Sweet Chariot is a song that usually isn’t sung in most churches today. It has become more of a concert piece. However, on that day, I sang it with a heart of joy, knowing that I am redeemed by grace. I encouraged those listening that morning to celebrate that promise of redemption and grace with me, and I encourage you to do the same.

And a final thought…if you’re feeling stuck in your career, and aren’t quite sure what steps to take, try improvising a bit. You may surprise yourself and begin to feel a sense of freedom and joy that is missing for you in your career. Click the play button icon below to hear a jazzed up rendition of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot. Yes, that’s my real voice.