Sweet emotion

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Jazz saxophone professor Brad Leali and his Jazz Orchestra will be part of Sunday’s “Gospel Meets Jazz: A Black History Celebration” at the University of North Texas.

Gospel, jazz share roots in human feeling

Saxophone player and University of North Texas music professor Brad Leali says jazz and gospel music are knitted into his DNA. Both inform the way he plays.

“This is how I was raised,” Leali said. “I was raised with gospel music and with jazz. It had always been a dream of mine to show these different factions of music that really inspired me to play the way I do.”

Gospel and jazz are American folk music driven by the same thing: human emotion.

“Gospel music comes from emotion. It’s basically giving praise to God. Some of the basic harmonies of gospel music are the foundation of jazz,” Leali said. “Sure, jazz is a bit more harmonically challenging. OK. But that’s what I’m trying to connect here. Gospel and jazz have these different qualities. Jazz isn’t as straightforward as gospel, but it should be just as emotional.

“It’s easy sometimes in jazz to think of the harmonic aspect of jazz as being more challenging, and the raw emotion does get lost sometimes. But both their roots are emotion. And it’s important for me to show that.”

Sunday’s “Gospel Meets Jazz” concert is the second Leali has put together in Denton. He staged his first “Gospel Meets Jazz” in 2007 in Lubbock.

The idea debuted in Denton last year with success — a concert hall packed tight with all ages, from all interests. Leali said he enjoyed the diversity among the audience members and onstage.

“There were people there from the church, from the school side of things. We played John Coltrane, and we played Kirk Franklin. We had a lot of stuff going on and it was so cool,” Leali said.

Leali said last year’s program was “straight-ahead jazz, just swinging,” and gospel music. On Sunday, during a free concert, Leali will showcase what he calls a “funkier side of jazz, like stuff from the 1970s.”

A Lubbock gospel choir will perform, and the Rev. Cory Powell will speak again about gospel music and its role in propelling worship and expressing raw emotion.

Leali expects that some of the gospel fans who attend are probably not church members, or Christian. He notes the universal appeal of gospel music as a sign of its power as an artform.

“It’s pure,” he said. “It’s just pure. In gospel music, people aren’t pretending. I think most people can relate to goodness, to love, right? And I think that’s the basis of gospel music: Thank you, Lord. Thank you.

“It doesn’t matter what religion you are. I think most people can relate to giving thanks. I think most people enjoy love, don’t they?”

On Sunday, Leali said he’ll assume his typical musical posture: playing from emotion, in both the language of gospel and the language of jazz.

“I’m excited about presenting something different,” he said. “I’m excited about all these talented people who will be onstage with me.”


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