From Bach to Bolcom

I originally wanted to talk about the influence of jazz in church music: what aspects does it change, and what stay the same; however, I felt this may be too broad, so my wish is to focus on analysis of one piece specifically: What A Friend We Have in Jesus, a gospel prelude by William Bolcom, and how this piece serves as an equally powerful reflection on its text just as any Bach chorale prelude would. This piece is one that I’ve become more and more familiar with over the past 5 years because the organist that I’d like to work with in graduate school, Dr. David Higgs, has the definitive opinion on this work. He and William Bolcom have worked together closely on the technique and nuance of this piece, with Bolcom revising different aspects of the piece per Higgs’ suggestions. I’ve heard Higgs play it in several concerts, I’ve had a lesson with him where we focused on this work, and I’m playing it in a student recital tomorrow.

My goal in this paper/podcast is to uncover how it serves the texts with a strong analysis. As far as researching goes, because there isn’t any written research available that I could find specifically of the piece, I need to find sources that explain Bolcom’s background as a composer, and what influenced his compositional style to see if his jazz writing is authentic to jazz heritage, or if it is jazz music run through a “classical” filter. I’ve reserved some books about the history of jazz music in the church, and jazz’s impact on religion to see if there is a connection there; if there is, I may want to modify my thesis to include this as an intermediate evolutionary step between Bach and Bolcom.

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