Words from the road: a sabbatical update

A note from Jamie Howison: This is the first in a series of weekly updates regarding my unfolding sabbatical study leave. For a bit of background as to the shape of my work during these two months, you can go to a piece I posted on this site in mid-December.


hile I love to travel and actually find airports to be really exciting places—in spite of the hassles of all of that security and screening—I don’t seem to have a whole lot of luck when it comes to not having flights delayed or canceled. Just about every time I’ve flown over the past five years I’ve had some glitch or another, and what with winter storms kicking all around the continent I more or less assumed that something would go wrong with my flight from Winnipeg through Toronto to New York. But what do you know? Nothing more serious than a fifteen minute delay in Toronto, and a very crowded transit bus which I rode from La Guardia airport into Manhattan.

My first two nights were spent in a residence room at Union Theological Seminary, and then on Monday afternoon I transitioned to my studio apartment on 52nd Avenue in midtown Manhattan. It is really more like a hotel room equipped with a decent sized galley kitchen, which I think has become the standard for newer buildings in a city with such high real estate prices. This photograph is of the view from the rooftop terrace on my building… classically New York.

My work is officially underway… both the reading/research part and the live music component. My first night here I saw the tenor sax veteran George Coleman (accompanied by the wonderful Harold Mabern on piano) at a great club called Smoke. As it happened the trumpeter Jeremy Pelt was in the room that night, and so for the last half of the set he joined the quartet and virtually blew the house down.  Sunday night found me at the Village Vanguard to hear The Bad Plus, a trio with serious appeal to younger fans more accustomed to rock and alternative music. It was probably the youngest jazz crowd I’ve seen in years, with me ranking as one of the four or five oldest people in the club.

Of course, it isn’t all about jazz… so Sunday morning I made my way over to the Cathedral of St John the Divine for the 11:00am communion service, and at 5:00 I went to Jazz Vespers at St Peter’s Church (okay, so that is a jazz thing yet again…). The service at St John’s was a bit predictable and not terribly imaginative, but the space was lovely and the words of the liturgy very familiar. At St Peter’s, Jazz Vespers was led by The Alex Brown Group, and they were very, very fine. St Peter’s is the place that originated jazz liturgies back in the early 1960s, when Pastor John Gensel was more or less adopted by the jazz community as their shepherd (and in fact Duke Ellington wrote the piece “The Shepherd Who Watches Over the Night Flock” in Gensel’s honour). I’ve arranged to meet with their current jazz ministry music leader on Thursday, which should make for an interesting interview for my research.

On the subject of interviews, yesterday I had a wonderful two-hour lunch with William Edgar, who is both a theologian and a jazz pianist. Now I just need to go back over the recording I made of our conversation, and sift through the sound of clinking cutlery and restaurant hum to retrieve the wonderful bits of wisdom and insight Dr Edgar brought to our meal.

On my way back to the apartment from lunch I took a detour and went to the Dillon Gallery to see Makoto Fujimura’s exhibit of The Four Holy Gospels. Fujimura was commissioned to do paintings, “drop caps” and marginalia for a new edition of the gospels being published to mark the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. The paintings—which are all abstracts—are both lovely and striking, filled with brilliant colours, bold strokes and bright splashes. I was really pleased to be able to arrive in the city in time to see this exhibit prior to its closing on January 8. I’d highly recommend taking a look at the project video for a better sense of this work.

And then last night I made my first of what will be many trips up to the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, where I attended a session of their “Jazz for Curious Listeners” series. I’m pleased that this month Christian McBride, one of this generation’s premier bass players, is leading the weekly series. A group of about 50 of us gathered at the Museum to listen as McBride offered an overview of the life, work and influence of bass player Jaco Pastorius. I spoke with McBride at the end of the session, and it looks as if I’ll be able to meet with him to do an interview for my project.

Today will be a library day at Union Theological Seminary, to dig in to some of the sources they have here that simply weren’t available in any of the libraries in Winnipeg.

That should cover it off for now.


3 Responses to Words from the road: a sabbatical update

  1. Sandra Campbell says:

    Hello Jamie.
    Thanks for the informative update. Fujimura’s work reminds me of the St John’s Bible that was here at the WAG. What a blessing to be able to see the work first hand. He is a modern day Icon painter with much to offer and there he is in the middle of it all. And there you are! It does not get any better.

  2. Laurie Massaro says:

    Thanks for sharing, Jamie…you’ve inspired me along with others, I’m sure!! I especially wish I was sitting in “Smoke” listening to the Jazz offerings and found Fujimura’s work exhilarating!! I shall continue to live vicariously through you as you continue to share your journey!

  3. Byron says:

    Love the four Bibles project

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