Spirits Rejoice! takes its name from a record by jazz saxophonist of the mid-1960s, Albert Ayler-later used, with an exclamation point added, by Louis Moholo-Moholo-and is appropriated in Jason Bivins's book to express the overlap of religion and jazz music through history.
Bivins explore themes that have resounded throughout the musical genre that are also integral to the practice of religions in the United States. Much writing about jazz falls into one of three categories: glorified record reviews or discographies; impressionistic descriptions of the actual sounds and dense musicological analyses; or contextualizing it within institutions or extant narratives that are easier to analyze.
Using religious studies as a point of comparison Bivins seeks to go beyond these approaches.
Instead, he takes to heart a commonly invoked characteristic of jazz, and improvises on the standard questions and stories thatmight be told.
Rather than producing a history or a series of biographical entries, Spirits Rejoice! will generate a collection of themes, pursuits, reoccurring foci, and interpretations.
When ranging across the cultural history of American jazz, these themes emerge not just in the musicians' ownwords (in interviews, liner notes, or journals) but also from the bandstand, audience reception, and critical interrogation.
Bivins looks at themes such as musical creativity as related to specific religious traditions, jazz as a form of ritual and healing, and jazz cosmologies and metaphysics, drawing conclusions that explore how "the sound of spirits rejoicing" challenges not only prevailing understandings of race and music, but also the way we think about "religion."