Earlier this week we heard about the evangelical backgrounds of public intellectuals Malcolm Gladwell, James Wood, and Christine Smallwood. Summarizing a report from Killing the Buddha, Daniel Vaca noted that all three mentioned the influence of the Bible on their habits of reading.
Now avant garde jazz composer Carla Bley has acknowledged the impact of an evangelical childhood on her music. In an interview with NPR’s “All Things Considered,” Bley talked about “Carla’s Christmas Carols,” her new recording of holiday standards. According to NPR, Bley “grew up celebrating and singing holiday tunes. Her father played organ at church, and her parents met as students at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.” The flavor of Moody was best captured by Shirley Nelson’s The Last Year of the War, a thinly-veiled portrait of the West Point of Christian service.
On her web page, Bley describes her childhood love of Christmas in a Scandinavian evangelical home, noting that her “Swedish-American family would have a full smorgasbord on Christmas Eve, then open the presents.”
Though Bley no longer celebrates the holiday, she approaches the carols with an attitude of reverence. According to her partner Steve Swallow, “We were as earnest as a Salvation Army band, and as happy and righteous as a Salvation Army band.”