All That Jazz

Feb 07 2016


“All That Jazz” is the name of one of the songs in the musical “Chicago.” It also used to be a saying that referred to all that stuff when people couldn’t remember names of things. You know, “all that jazz.” When you hear jazz performers play, part of what you hear is improvisation. The make it up on the spur of the moment, and if they played the same piece next week, it probably wouldn’t sound exactly the same. It’s variations on a theme within the boundaries set by musical harmonic structure.

So keep that in mind as we move into the reading from Ecclesiastes. If we have lived any reasonable length of time, I would venture a guess that most of us have experienced the majority and range of emotions listed: births, deaths, mourning, dancing, embracing and not embracing, keeping silent and speaking, love and hate, to name a few. For every one of those times, we have improvised. We have taken what we have known and dealt with it in the best way we could at the moment – hopefully within the ethical and moral boundaries that rule our lives. Perhaps now we would deal with those situations differently. But we make choices, and those choices are the improvisations that occur during the jazz of life. Not all music is joyous; not all of life is joyous; not all music is sad; and not all of life is sad. As the writer said, “There is a time for everything under heaven,” which brings me this morning to the choices Peter made.

He started out as a fisherman. When called by Jesus, he became a disciple. But Peter was no ordinary disciple. While he didn’t always understand what Jesus was trying to tell him, he was completely devoted and loyal. So the choices that Peter made were within the framework of his loyalty to Jesus – except in the courtyard.

Peter showed up in the courtyard, following Jesus, wanting to know what was happening, yet not wanting to acknowledge who he was. It all started when a servant girl of the high priest recognized Peter. “You also were with Jesus, the man of Nazareth.” But he denied it saying, “I do not know or understand what you are talking about.” This was the same Peter who earlier had said to Jesus, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.”

Peter imagined the worst, and in those moments he made a decision completely contrary to what had been his moral framework because of the projection he imagined based on fear – fear he would be caught, fear he would be tortured, fear he would be put to death.

What happened in the jazz of Peter’s life? He was afraid – Peter who said he would die with Jesus was afraid for his life and chose to deny Jesus rather than face the consequences he imagined would occur. And isn’t it always the case that the worst we imagine in a given situation rarely if ever occurs?

Musicians hit wrong notes. It’s a given. Sometimes it happens when we practice; sometimes it happens during a performance. But the issue is that it does happen. Musicians make mistakes, but they don’t dwell on those mistakes. They move on and make it better the next time.

Our lives are just as full of mistakes. In our lives we are constantly thrown into situations where we must make decisions. The definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” If we do not learn from our mistakes, then we will go on doing the same thing and expecting different results. The musician moves on and changes.

We are playing the symphonies of our lives. Yet too often we fulfill the definition of insanity because we are afraid of change. The jazz of our lives is fraught with decisions. If we learn from our mistakes, we move on. If something is not right, we change it. But to keep playing the same wrong notes will produce the same bad results.

The jazz of life goes on from birth to death. We cannot change a moment of the music that has already been played. We can only decide, like the jazz musician, to change it the next time we encounter a similar situation.

If Peter were given a second chance, what tune would he play? We’ll never know. But the important lesson for us is to recognize that we choose the tunes in the variety of situations that the writer of Ecclesiastes has shared with us. Even though we can’t predict the future, we can realize that the choice of tune that we will play next time we encounter one of those situations is up to us. We can choose to continue to make decisions based on fear, or we can choose to change the tune and make decisions based on a faith in ourselves, in the people around us, and in God that things will turn out better this time.


The music of our lives will not always be harmonious. There will be wrong notes, but there will also be the moments when we play tremendous symphonies. Our lives are all that jazz. But like the musicians, we choose which notes to play in all of the circumstances that life places before us. Amen.