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Night Lights Classic Jazz

Jazz, Spiritually Speaking

Slave spirituals were often improvisations upon older hymns that became entirely new songs, and in some ways they foreshadow the birth of American jazz.

The LP cover of Grant Green's Blue Note album FEELIN' THE SPIRIT.

Photo: Album cover art

The spirit moving on Blue Note: guitarist Grant Green's 1963 all-spirituals album for the label.

Spirituals were African-American religious folksongs that grew out of the slavery experience and the introduction of Christianity into slaves’ lives. Rooted in African musical tradition as well, they reflected life in a strange and terribly oppressive new world. They were often improvisations upon older hymns that became entirely new songs, and in some ways they foreshadow the birth of American jazz. In this program we’ll hear jazz interpretations of spirituals by John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, Grant Green, Louis Armstrong, Archie Shepp with Horace Parlan, and more.

(NOTE: some of this content previously appeared in a post that I wrote for NPR’s “Take Five” feature: Wade In The Water: Five Jazz Takes On Spirituals )

Music Heard On This Episode

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
Albert Ayler — Goin' Home (Black Lion, 1964)
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Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
Albert Ayler — Goin' Home (Black Lion, 1964)

Notes: With Cal Cobbs Jr. on piano, Henry Grimes on bass, and Sunny Murray on drums.

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Go Down Moses
Grant Green — Feelin' the Spirit (Blue Note, 1962)

Notes: With Herbie Hancock on piano, Butch Warren on bass, Billy Higgins on drums.

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Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen
Duke Ellington — Treasury Shows V. 1 (D.E.T.S., 1945)

Notes: Al Hibbler on vocals.

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Down By the Riverside
Sister Rosetta Tharpe/Lucky Millinder — Complete Sister Rosetta Tharpe V. 1 (Fremeaux, 1943)

Notes: Jubilee broadcast.

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Jonah and the Whale
Louis Armstrong — Louis and the Good Book (Decca, 1958)
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Get On Board, Little Children
Jack Teagarden — Swing Low, Sweet Spiritual (Capitol, 1956)
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Abide With Me
Thelonious Monk — Complete Riverside Recordings With John Coltrane (Riverside, 1957)

Notes: midpoint music bed.

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Spiritual
John Coltrane — Live at the Village Vanguard (Impulse, 1961)

Notes: With Eric Dolphy on bass clarinet, McCoy Tyner on piano, Reggie Workman on bass, and Elvin Jones on drums.

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Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child
Archie Shepp/Horace Parlan — Goin' Home (Steeplechase, 1977)
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My Lord, What a Mornin'
Hank Jones/Charlie Haden — Steal Away (Verve, 1994)
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