Beauty may not save the world, as Dostoyevsky once wrote, but it will enrich your soul. One Christian pianist gets that.
In 2009, pianist Chad Lawson released his first solo album, “Set On a Hill.” Lawson, who’d previously been part of a jazz trio, said that “From the first note of the album, I wanted it to be one’s avenue to just breathe…to exhale. The album doesn’t ‘grab’ you from the first note because we have enough things grabbing us as it is. So I simply wanted to start with an invitation to peace.”
Now, in the wrong hands that might be the occasion for vapid noodling on the keys. But Lawson’s are the right hands. His music was called “delightful” and “magical” by one reviewer.
In the seven years since then, Lawson has released seven more albums. And they’re all, in their own way, an “invitation to peace.” Yet they’re far more than that. They’re explorations of the increasingly permeable boundaries between jazz, with its emphasis on improvisation, and classical music.
His 2011 album, “The Piano,” opens with a variation on Bach’s Prelude in C major from “The Well-Tempered Clavier.” As yet another critic wrote of Lawson’s performance, “Lawson’s playing defines “velvet touch,’” adding that he often plays the piano “as though it doesn’t have hammers.”
This “velvet touch” is arguably at its most sublime in the track “Dance You Pretty,” a song whose simple, quiet beauty brings to mind C. S. Lewis’ quote about how music, and beauty more generally, can be the “scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”
Chad Lawson would understand my use of Lewis. Lawson, a native of North Carolina, grew up in a Christian home. And despite the fact that he grew up in a non-musical home, and in a church that didn’t permit listening to non-Christian music, he knew from an early age that he wanted to be a musician.
The only question was: classical or jazz? He wound up getting a scholarship to the Berklee College of Music, which is to jazz what Julliard is to classical music.
Now in many cases, when young Christian artists are exposed to a wider world, they fall away from the faith, or at least the ardor of their faith cools considerably. But that isn’t the case with Lawson. In 2013, he released the album “Songs of Prayer.” As Lawson wrote, “the Lord really laid it on my heart to record something that people could use during prayer.” The album was recorded in one take: Lawson “let the Lord place his hands wherever He wanted to and 32 minutes later, it was done.”
Lawson’s faith also played a role in the inspiration for his most-acclaimed and best-selling work to date: 2014’s “The Chopin Variations.” The idea for the album came in part from violinist Judy Kang, whom Lawson describes as the “most unapologetic Christian” he has ever met.
The album, which obliterates the line between jazz-inspired improvisation and classical, debuted at #1 on iTunes’, Amazon’s, and Billboard’s classical charts.
I could go on but I hope you get the point: you need to listen to Chad Lawson. Many of us Christians have an unfortunate tendency to focus on the good and true while neglecting the beautiful. Consider this a much-needed correction. Come to BreakPoint.org, and we’ll link you to samples of Lawson’s music.
Music, Beauty, and Faith: The Art of Pianist Chad Lawson
This is a great opportunity to support and encourage a Christian artist. Click on the links below to read more about Chad Lawson and to hear samples of his music.
Chad Lawson: Crossing Over and Back
K. Shackelford | allaboutjazz.com | June 18, 2015
Chad Lawson: Heart in Hand
Pope Benedict XVI’s Theology of Beauty and the New Evangelization
Dr. Matthew J. Ramage | Homeletic & Pastoral Review | January 29, 2015
Available at the online bookstore
Restoring Beauty: The Good, the True, and the Beautiful in the Writings of C.S. Lewis
Louis Markos | IVP Books | October 2010
The Weight of Glory
C. S. Lewis | HarperOne Publisher