A Supreme Love: The Music of Jazz and the Hope of the Gospel, By William Edgar

A Supreme Love

The Music of Jazz and the Hope of the Gospel

by William Edgar
Foreword by Carl Ellis and Karen Ellis

A Supreme Love
  • Length: 224 pages
  • Dimensions: 5.5 × 8.5 in
  • Published: July 26, 2022
  • Imprint: IVP Academic
  • Item Code: A0066
  • ISBN: 9781514000663

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The Gospel Coaltion Award of Distinction—Arts and Culture

ECPA Top Shelf Award Winner

For practitioners and fans, jazz expresses the deepest meanings of life. Its rich history and its distinctive elements like improvisation and syncopation unite to create an unrepeatable and inexpressible aesthetic experience. But for others, jazz is an enigma. Might jazz be better appreciated and understood in relation to the Christian faith?

In this volume, theologian and jazz pianist William Edgar argues that the music of jazz cannot be properly understood apart from the Christian gospel, which like jazz moves from deep lament to inextinguishable joy. By tracing the development of jazz, placing it within the context of the African American experience, and exploring the work of jazz musicians like Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald, and Louis Armstrong, Edgar argues that jazz deeply resonates with the hope that is ultimately found in the good news of Jesus Christ.

Grab a table. The show is about to begin.

"William Edgar's A Supreme Love stands as something of a tour through the story of jazz and all that has shaped and informed it. After a solid introductory chapter called 'Jazz and the Gospel,' Edgar takes the reader through a tour of slavery, the churches, the spirituals, the blues, gospel, and all the social, religious, and musical forces that coalesced in the development of jazz—a tour that runs for nearly half his book. But that's Edgar's way, as he doesn't want to rush too quickly past all those formative voices and influences, such that when he arrives at the point where jazz music begins to be formed, the reader is ready to roll. Newcomers to this music will find a deep and useful introduction to the music, with footnotes filled with links to online samples. Jazz fans will enjoy the tour, quibbling from time to time as to why this artist or that album wasn't cited . . . which is something jazz fans love to do! Read and be enriched."

Jamie Howison, author of God's Mind in That Music: Theological Explorations Through the Music of John Coltrane

"In my musician mind there has always been a deep connection between jazz, musical improvisation, and the disciple life. To risk the creation of improvised music armed with only imagination and talent is to dive right in to the center of grace. It's in the grace of God through Jesus that the musician finds peace, receives love that casts out fear, and learns to trust the reconciling power of the gospel to turn every misspent note into a glorious tool of orchestration. I simply don't know of any contemporary who has mined this field more than Bill Edgar. With A Supreme Love, the gifted Dr. Edgar invites all readers from every vocation to experience what he's known and taught for decades now: Jesus and jazz are inextricably linked."

Charlie Peacock, Grammy Award–winning music producer and founder of the commercial music program at Lipscomb University

"Once in a while a theologian tips the hand and reveals their passions unrelated to their professional pursuits. Karl Barth wrote on Mozart, and William Edgar, respected theologian at Westminster Theological Seminary, has written A Supreme Love, paying homage to his passion for jazz. A competent practitioner of the art form throughout his life, he puns on Coltrane's A Love Supreme for the title of his book. The result: a mature theologian's thinking that generates a sophisticated and personal account of the historical sweep of jazz history through the lens of a performer who has had a rich life of interacting with luminaries in jazz history. A delightful read for many who would be both theology-inclined readers and lovers of the arts who might not necessarily bring jazz into the conversation. For those who enjoy both passions, this book's for you. May this book always appeal to the intellectually curious, not least to those interested in theology and jazz history."

Johann Buis, musicologist, Wheaton College

"Art is surprisingly adept at finding beauty in the paradoxes and tensions of Christian faith, and jazz music is a particularly potent genre in this regard. William Edgar's A Supreme Love is a lovely reflection on the ways jazz and the gospel can converse. Edgar offers a welcome example of sophisticated theological engagement with music, without feeling forced. I learned so much reading this book—and discovered some great music too!"

Brett McCracken, senior editor at The Gospel Coalition and author of The Wisdom Pyramid: Feeding Your Soul in a Post-Truth World

"With love and verve, Bill Edgar describes jazz—the movement from deep misery to unspeakable joy—not only as the gift of the creativity and hard-won faith of Black artists, but also as a reflection of the racial and musical complexity of America. Read the book and listen to the music (on the links Edgar provides) with gratitude to these Black artists and the loving God who inspired them."

William Dyrness, senior professor of theology and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary and author of The Facts on the Ground: A Wisdom Theology of Culture

"For many years, Bill Edgar has been a leading figure in the music and theology world. Here he shows how deeply intertwined jazz is with the Christian gospel. But not only does he have an impressive grasp of his subject, he is a practitioner par excellence. This double qualification means that anything he writes deserves to be listened to with special care."

Jeremy Begbie, Duke University

"It is evident on every page that this is a labor of great love, informed by a lifetime of listening to and performing jazz music. Bill Edgar gives particular attention to the ways that jazz reflects the profound suffering and the extraordinary strength of the African American community. It is just this history, he argues, that gives rise to a music that enacts a gospel-shaped movement from sorrow to joy."

Steven R. Guthrie, professor of theology and religion and the arts at Belmont University

"Jazz pianist Professor Edgar shows convincingly how jazz is rooted in the African American Black experience of daily persecuted suffering and Sunday jubilation. The biblical faith of spirituals and the psalm-like lament of blues constitute the very fiber of jazz. That is why jazz music can move from expressing deep misery to ending with sounds of inextinguishable joy. This well-written book has verve, is effortlessly informed, and offers a treasury of websites and books for anyone who wishes to understand and enjoy the gift of jazz."

Calvin Seerveld, professor emeritus of philosophical aesthetics at the Toronto Institute for Christian Studies

Read an Excerpt


Introduction: Jazz and the Gospel

Part I: Historical Context
1. A Long Way from Home: Slavery and Diaspora
2. Paternalism: Justifying Narratives
3. Bondage and Beauty: Life and Music During Slavery
4. Strength to Climb: The Gospel During Slavery

Part II: Feeder Genres
5. Resilience: The Music of Strength
6. Go Down, Moses: Spirituals
7. Precious Lord: Moving to Gospel
8. Woke Up this Morning: The Blues

Part III: Jazz Music
9. A Way of Life: How Jazz Came into Being
10. Jazz at Midlife: Bebop and Cool
11. Gospel in Jazz: The Christian Message in the Musicians and the Music
12. The Spirit of Jazz: Jazz and the Gospel Message
13. The Glories of Jazz: What's Not to Love?

Appendix: Selected Jazz Recordings
General Index
Scripture Index


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William Edgar

William Edgar is professor of apologetics and coordinator of the apologetics department at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia as well as professeur associé at the Faculté Jean Calvin in Aix-en-Provence, France.  He is the author of several books, including Created and Creating: A Biblical Theology of Culture, The Christian Mind: Escaping Futility, Francis Schaeffer on the Christian Life; and Christian Apologetics Past & Present.