Jazzing up Mass

Karla Hayward
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

Jim Duff's CD brings new life to a old form

"Jazz Mass." To many of us, especially those raised in the Roman Catholic church, it sounds like an oxymoron. A contradiction in terms.

But that's exactly what musician and composer Jim Duff has created and committed to CD.

From a musical perspective, a mass consists of six sections. They are the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus and the Agnus Dei.

Composer and arranger Jim Duff sits at his keyboard in his St. John's home. On his new album "Jazz Mass" Duff fuses the traditional Mass form with the fluidity of Jazz. - Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram

"Jazz Mass." To many of us, especially those raised in the Roman Catholic church, it sounds like an oxymoron. A contradiction in terms.

But that's exactly what musician and composer Jim Duff has created and committed to CD.

From a musical perspective, a mass consists of six sections. They are the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus and the Agnus Dei.

In his composition, Duff has followed this format, adding his own special section to the end - the Beatus, a Beatitude, or blessing.

If it seems like composing and recording a mass is a strange thing, it's not unprecedented. Many of the great composers, like Beethoven and Brahms, also wrote masses, and not always for performance in the church.

Masses were often showcased in concert halls to please the ears of the religious and the non-religious alike.

That said, Duff's choice of writing his mass in a jazz sensibility is unusual.

"There have been very few jazz masses," says Duff. "I found only two or three on the Net."

The making of a Mass

So, why this melding of mass and jazz?

The jazz side of things is simple enough; "I was reared on jazz," says Duff. "It's my favourite type of music and it's the one that I am most comfortable in."

And as for why he felt compelled to write such a complex piece of music as a Mass, Duff says, "Just for fun! It was a challenge: can I write something like that? I've been thinking of it for quite a while and I finally decided to go at it. Secondarily, I wanted to write a piece for a large group. This is probably the largest group that's ever done a CD locally."

And just like that, he set out to incorporate as many styles of jazz music as he could into his six-part piece.

The resulting work pays homage to the jazz waltz, bossa nova, the basic blues swing, all sorts of fusions and more.

Of course, jazz is by nature built on improvisation, so he had to leave room for the soloist's personal choices.

"I wanted to centre this around improvisation. I had two soloists. So it's kind of a play between those soloists, the choir and the orchestra. There's this interplay, this dancing back and forth."

Asked how much improvisational play he gave his soloists, Duff smiles and says, "Lots."

The two primary instrumental soloists are John Nugent and Patrick Boyle. In total, 55 performers come together on the disc, including members of the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra, the Quintessential Vocal Ensemble and a number of other local musicians, including Bill Brennan on piano.

In the beginning

Duff says he first began work on his Jazz Mass back in 1995.

For various reasons, he let the project lie fallow for many years, again picking it up again about two years ago.

He says that getting the initial outline of the piece was the most difficult part - getting the big picture in place.

The actual recording of the CD was also challenge from a logistical standpoint, due to the large number of participants and their often conflicting schedules.

Be that as it may, Duff seems quite pleased with the result of his labour of love.

"I really like the contrast between the classical sounds of the choir and the orchestra and the more modern sensibility," he said.

"The Latin text is just a beautiful language to set to music. Just formation of the words, just sound of the words blends wonderfully with music."

After listening to the disc, one can't help but agree.

Committed to disc, "Jazz Mass" runs 37 minutes long, plus the five-minute special section, Beatus.

Find out more about the CD online at jimduff.ca/jazzmass or purchase it online at indiepool.com or cdbaby.com.

Organizations: Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page

Comments

Comments

Recent comments

  • Sam Rose
    July 02, 2010 - 13:09

    Our parish of St. Michael & All Angels, St. John's, NL has had Jazz Vespers on numerous occasions. We would certainly be interested in having Mr. Duff and his group led a Saturday evening Jazz Mass at our church.

  • Sam Rose
    July 01, 2010 - 19:45

    Our parish of St. Michael & All Angels, St. John's, NL has had Jazz Vespers on numerous occasions. We would certainly be interested in having Mr. Duff and his group led a Saturday evening Jazz Mass at our church.