There is no better accompaniment for one’s despair than the lie of jazz. The beat so peppy and hopeful. The voices so enticing and smooth. The instruments so loud and playful. It overwhelms the listener with slow, sensual beats. The rhythm moves, emotes, evokes, and challenges. It is praise to the gift of feeling—the gift of being with another.
But the words. The words of jazz do not lie. Even the songs of love found are tinged with the knowledge of love lost. The lament simmers under the music. It is disguised by joy. It is hidden until it breaks forth unexpectedly—painfully. One is carried by the tune and is awakened slowly to the meaning of the words.
Perhaps I would have lived blissfully unaware of this quality of jazz had my uncle not committed suicide. I would have recognized the unrequited love—who can’t identify with that?—but I would not have noticed the deeper lament, the grief of jazz.
My first outing after I returned home from my uncle’s funeral was to a local wine bar to listen to a jazz group that plays there every week. I’ve been attending these jazz nights off and on for nearly two years. In the midst of grief I wanted the overwhelming noise to wash over me and cleanse me of grief. I wanted to be reminded of play and joy and goodness.
But what I found was lament. The songs of praise had become songs of cursing. What had been musical frolicking had become barely controlled chaos. I no longer heard the joyful shouting but rather the cries from the depths.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells his followers, “Those who have ears should hear.” In graduate school, one of my professors was fond of asking, “What do you hear when you hear?” Perhaps we hear what we need to hear. I needed lament, and so I heard it. Over the past few months I have gone to jazz night alone, with pen and paper, to write about the experience of living with grief. These nights have reminded me that there is not only lament in the midst of hope but also hope in the midst of lament. Sometimes lies are nothing but truth.