William Edgar’s new book, A Supreme Love: The Music of Jazz and the Hope of the Gospel, is itself a work of love. Edgar, professor of systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, describes himself as a “decent amateur” of jazz who has played, studied, and written about it not from any career aspirations but out of a lifelong attachment. He is an amateur in the truest sense of the word’s origin, the French amateur: “one who loves.” This affection spills out of the margins, inviting readers to dive into a subject presented with joyful attention to detail and collegial warmth.
The book is a friendly read, dotted with Edgar’s own asides (“In my opinion, this was the best of his albums” or “Personally, I don’t think this is quite true”) like a friend sharing opinions about a concert over a drink. But the love of jazz is far from Edgar’s sole motivation. He writes, “By knowing the historical roots of jazz and by being better listeners, I believe that we will hear something that is deeply embedded in jazz: a supreme love—the love of God.”
This affectionate approach does not preclude academic rigor. The book presents a comprehensive and deep account of both the historical and technical aspects of jazz, as evidenced by its extensive engagement with important works of jazz scholarship. Edgar proceeds chronologically, from jazz’s origin in African diaspora music to the development of its “background genres,” namely spirituals, gospel, and the blues. Readers will come away better informed about the history of jazz, including its central figures, internal debates, and present innovations.
Edgar’s own proficiency ...1
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