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January 16, 2001

All that Jazz

By Eric Rangus

One of the highlights of Emory’s King Week celebration is the jazz vespers service to be held in Cannon Chapel, Thursday, Jan. 18. Featured on saxophone, flute and clarinet will be Dwight Andrews, associate professor of music.

But Thursday’s performance only scratches the surface of Andrews’ activity.

“King was a great lover of jazz, but we always think of jazz in a secular concert or smoky club framework,” said Andrews, who is not only an Emory professor but also an ordained minister at Atlanta’s First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ.

“In fact, we know that many of the great jazz masters had spiritual and religious interests of all types. The vespers is really a way to bring all of these things together into one activity to celebrate the music that we love and is uniquely American.”

Sitting in with Andrews in his jazz quintet will be: Gary Motley (piano), Moffett Morris (bass), Jacques Lesure (guitar) and Jimmy Jackson (drums). Morris works at Woodruff Library, and Motley teaches jazz improv in the music department.

Vocalist Kathleen Bertrand and the Atlanta Community Jazz Chorus will also be featured.

“We do so much around Emory for King Week,” Andrews said. “If we’re not careful, I think people will sometimes take it for granted and it will just become part of the ritual.”


Situated about five blocks from the King Memorial, the building that houses the First Congregational Church in downtown Atlanta was constructed in 1867 as a school for ex-slaves and quickly earned a reputation for far-reaching work in the black community.

“This church became very well known as an independent black congregation that helped folks come from the country into the city and get on their feet,” Andrews said. “We, in a sense, have for the last 130 years been trying to maintain that kind of socially progressive ministry.”

It is affiliated with the United Church of Christ, a relatively young Protestant denomination that came into being in 1957 with the union of the Evangelical and Reformed Church and Congregational Christian Churches.

Not only is Andrews First Congregational’s senior minister, former United Nations Ambassador and Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young also is a minister there. In fact, it was from the church’s pulpit that Young spoke recently about whether Georgia should keep the Confederate battle flag as part of the Georgia state flag.

Radiating a beauty that transcends its age, the sound in the church sanctuary—which was built in 1908—is so pristine, the acoustics so perfect, that the melody of Andrews practicing his sax from across the church reaches listeners’ ears as though he is standing right next to them.


“I wanted to be a rock and roll musician. I came out of the Jimi Hendrix generation, so I had the afro out to here,” Andrews said, crowning his hands about six inches above his close-cropped head. “My best friend’s dad was a Congregational minister, and my rock and roll band rehearsed in the church basement. So it was impossible not to see the work that was going on in his life even while I was learning the Temptations and Rare Earth.”

After earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Michigan, the Detroit native entered seminary school at Yale. To make money on the side, he played club gigs in New York.

Eventually Andrews earned a master’s of divinity and then a Ph.D. in music theory. He also served at campus chaplain at Yale for almost 10 years.

At Emory, Andrews may be best known for his history of jazz class, but this semester he will be revisiting a course he last taught at Yale—“Sacred Music in the United States.”

“People think of black sacred music as being one thing,” Andrews said. “In fact, it is many things because there are so many different traditions within the African American community.”

Andrews intends to take the class to several churches around the area to experience the roles music plays in their worship.


“I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on how I want to focus my time at this point of my career,” Andrews said. His varied activities make that understandable.

One of his focuses will be writing. Andrews already has a strong background in producing scores for films and the stage (including August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, The Piano Lesson). Andrews was also awarded a three-year fellowship from Meet the Composer, an artistic support organization, to develop some music theater work.

“I [also] will be doing a lot more community-based presenting around arts and culture, because I think this is one of the ways you can really help build communities.”

His most recent activity was a panel discussion that took place at the church, Sunday, Jan. 14, regarding documentary filmmaker Ken Burns’ new work Jazz. The discussion explored the ideas of documentaries as history, the power of the media to make history and myth, and the role of race in the equation.

Andrews co-hosted the event with Joe Jennings of Spelman College, and panelists included Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Tom Teepen, filmmaker Louis Massiah, musicologist Stephen Christ, composer Alvin Singleton and historian Michael Gomez.

Discussing Burns’ film a couple days before the panel took place fired Andrews up—not about what Burns says, but what he doesn’t say.

“I am really struck and troubled in some ways by the documentary,” Andrews said. “It is an incredibly beautiful story, but I think what goes unstated is the way in which [jazz’s] very being speaks to the way in which racism works in our country. So I want that to be a community discussion, not one that just ruminates in my head.

“It’s not a slam against Ken Burns, but if you watch that documentary carefully, it is so skillfully done that jazz becomes a wonderful metaphor for what he would like us to think is America. It becomes a kind of metaphor for democracy—kind of an egalitarian coming together for the way in which we of different races and different backgrounds and different ethnicities rallied around this liberating music. Well, that’s absolutely true on one level, but the flipside is that this is a music that was forged because of the racism [of the times].

“This could not happen were it not for racism and Jim Crow and segregation and slavery and an economic system in which black musicians could only participate in certain places.”

Somewhat humorously, Andrews added that he had already bought the $150 video collection of the documentary. Andrews said Burns’ film will become part of jazz’s history, and he hoped to start a dialogue on what that means.

“This is a wonderful time for new conversations and new reflections, and that’s what I’m hoping I’ll be a catalyst for.”


Back to Emory Report Jan. 16, 2001