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A Q&A with Jim Bennett & Greg Jarrell


A Q&A with Jim Bennett & Greg Jarrell

Jim Bennett & Greg Jarrell

Jim and Greg will be the 2016 Summer Conference musicians. Recently we were able to ask them some questions about their music, passion for social justice, and how the two fit together.

Jim and Greg have known each other for 15 years and have played music together in a variety of settings. They have each recorded on their own, and recently put out their first recording together called How Bright the Path. Greg is founder and co-director of QC Family Tree, a community of hospitality and rooted discipleship in Charlotte, NC. He is an active saxophonist in the Charlotte area, working with local musicians and nationally-known touring acts. Greg works to pursue justice, beauty, and love by sharing life with neighbors in Charlotte, including wife Helms and two sons, John Tyson and Zeb. Jim travels through life as a musician, husband, father, son, brother, and friend. He seeks to make the world a better place through music, community, restorative justice, and prayer. 

BPFNA: What was your first introduction to music and was there a particular moment when you realized you wanted to be a musician?

JB: I probably first started hearing music in church as a baby. My father was a Methodist minister when I was born. My mother became a United Methodist minister when I was a teenager. I heard music in my home a lot–my three siblings all played instruments and my mother studied and taught dance. I took piano lessons as a child and continued as a teenager, learning a little about jazz and other styles. In college, I continued to study piano (jazz and classical) but had no plans to do church music. My first job after college was as an accompanist for dance–modern/ballet/improvisation–at William & Mary College. When I moved to Richmond, VA, I continued the accompaniment work but also started part-time as a church musician. The shift to mostly full time work as a church musician was gradual and not direct (no Damascus Road moment for me). But, interestingly, since 2014, I have been Minister of Music at St. Paul's Episcopal in Alexandria, VA where I lead an eclectic ensemble of musicians who are called The Damascus Road Dogs.

GJ: I grew up around musicians, none of whom had formal training. Later on, as a teacher introduced me to the world of improvised music, especially Black American music, I was captured by the imaginations of the people I was listening to. They could transform sound into stories and moods and messages. The more I practiced, the more I realized I could learn that as well.

BPFNA: How do you see the role of music being important in social justice work? How can music act as an agent of social change?

JB: Music has a powerful role in the work for social justice partly because it can engage people's bodies, hearts, minds, and spirits. It has the ability to take us out of our heads and into a deep place where transformation can take place. It's not enough sometimes to simply talk. Music/singing can open us to something more. 

GJ: It is hard to imagine the work without the music that is the soundtrack for the work. Every revolution and movement has music that stirs the imagination and rouses our bodies to sing and clap and dance our way to freedom.

BPFNA: Who inspires you/who are your role models?

JB: That's not a short list! Inspiration: the past several years I've found Fr. Richard Rohr's teachings/writings to be very helpful and meaningful in my daily life. Pope Francis. The abundance of blossoms in my yard this spring. My sister-in-law Nancy who recently donated one of her kidneys to my brother. Role models (musical): Dave Brubeck, Thomas "Fats" Waller, John L. Bell and the Iona Community, Jacques Berthier and the Community of Taize.

GJ: I'm inspired by John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Nina Simone, Miles Davis, and Charlie Parker. By Will Campbell, Clarence Jordan, the Black Lives Matter movement, Wendell Berry, and James Baldwin. I'm inspired by the people I share life with at QC Family Tree.

BPFNA: What do you hope Summer Conference attendees will take away from your music?

JB: My hope is they'll continue to sing some of the songs/hymns and bring them to their own communities. I hope they'll learn a new song, rediscover an old one, and welcome the Holy Spirit's presence in our worship together.

GJ: I hope the music gets down in our bones and nurtures our imaginations to dream of and work for a world different than the one we currently inhabit. 

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