Spotlight Interview with Jazz Musician and Curate, Tim Boniface

Music has power.  It unites and divides; it reflects and challenges Culture.  Music speaks to our emotions, our sense of identity and where we belong.  It has also been a central part of worship from the beginning. In this Spotlight Interview, Mandy Carr speaks to Tim Boniface, jazz musician and composer, about how music is part of his life.

Tell us about your musical background
I’ve been playing jazz since I was about 13, in bands of my own and those run by others. I learned saxophone from 11 onwards, and alongside that, taught myself piano, trumpet, guitar and a few other things. I found that the language of jazz made sense to my ears from the word go, and essentially learned by playing along to CDs. I set up a 6 piece jazz band in school, and once school was over, three of us continued to play and started to work semi-professionally, playing at functions, festivals and our own concerts. I went to university to study music, but never started. I studied theology instead, but played jazz in pubs and clubs.  Once I’d left university I worked part-time professionally, and then finally, full time pro for a while—still working regularly with the drummer from my school years. I also have a background as a church chorister in Surrey, which aided my musical development a lot… but jazz has always been the main thing, really.

Is jazz your main love in musical styles? And if so, what attracts you to it?
Yes it is! In a way I can’t put its attraction wholly into words; but I recognise both in playing and listening to jazz an extraordinary depth of expressive potential—with an unbridled joy and a gritty realism all overlapping in the same genre. Obviously other musical genres have that too, but I experience it in jazz in a really dynamic way. In terms of playing, I absolutely love the on-stage interaction and the genuine ‘in-the-moment’ creativity that jazz musicians enable—a dimension of jazz that makes it such an unpredictable and co-operative art form.

Tell us about the inspiration behind your most recent project.
Late 2015, I had a conversation with Martin Evans (ex-Greenbelt director) in which we agreed I’d write a new jazz suite for the community ‘ArtsFest’ to be held in Holy Week at St Paul’s Church in Cambridge.  After searching around for some inspiration, I recalled having read Michael Sadgrove’s book ‘The Eight Words of Jesus’.  I decided to write a suite examining each of the eight sayings of Jesus in St John’s passion.  I was thrilled to work with three absolutely stunning jazz players based in London and we premiered it in Holy Week 2016.  Shortly afterwards, I agreed with Westcott House in Cambridge that we would jointly release a studio recording of the project, with the the profits going towards their development project. The CD, ‘The Eight Words’ is now available, and we’re performing it around the place a bit too – not least at St Nicholas in Chislehurst on 8th April.

It’s a privilege to have been given the space and backing to write, perform and produce this work, and both the premier and the recording were, for want of a better phrase, really deep experiences. I’m very satisfied with the result, and we’re enjoying good feedback from audiences, regarding both the musical and spiritual dimensions of the project.

Tim Boniface 2

What dreams do you have for the future?
Gosh, I don’t know… To be part of humanity enriched by God’s gift of performing arts, I guess, and to be part of a church that allows that aspect of human life to flourish! Artisitically there are many more projects I’d like to explore—perhaps more jazz suites on other biblical/liturgical/theological themes. I recently wrote a systematics PhD on the Christologies of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Hans Frei and, for a long time, I kept my academic theological work and my musical work quite separate.  In a way, this project hints at a closer coming together.

You are an ordained minister in the Church of England and a jazz musician and composer. Are there are conflicts between your pursuit of music and creative projects and your life of faith?

Not between music and my ‘life of faith’, no. Music is part of me being me; and I find playing strengthens my spiritual life and my commitment to engage with God who gives the world such expressive potential for beauty and depth. So no, there’s no tension between the Christian life and being a jazz musician; none at all.  In terms of my own ordained ministry and the day-to-day, sure—there are times when I might feel I want to give more time to jazz, or a moment when playing feels an easier thing to do than an aspect of ministry; but it goes the other way too,  insofar as my time as a full-time musician was characterised by a sense that there was more to me being me than playing. I think this is an unavoidable tension for me, and that I’m destined to be somewhat stuck in the middle.  I trust there’s some fruit in that! Our day to day vocational choices need not be free of tension – it can be good for us; perhaps a true way of living.

How do you think music ‘works as mission’ – if indeed you think it does?
Obviously there is an enormous extent to which music has historically been a focal point of Christian spirituality, and often the mode in which people experienced their faith most profoundly and/or familiarly.  Indeed, on that level, one of the most satisfying results of the Eight Words project has been people saying that they had not really intentionally engaged with the connection between their love of jazz and their own faith before. That’s incredibly satisfying, because in that situation the music is encouraging and enabling a broadening of horizons to the work of God in the world and in our own lives.

But I also do believe quite specifically in the missional importance of community music, and the extent to which the creative arts overall offer an opportunity for a community to experience a really multi-dimensional transformation. In that sense, I see creative arts—music included obviously—as less of a ’tool for mission’, and more as an aspect of the mission itself, insofar as the kind of things the gospel encourages us to desire for our fellow human beings are things that the creative arts enable to flourish. Community choirs are a superb example of this, not least because, if done well, they draw in a mix of people to form a transformational community that has ‘the gospel’ written all over it.

What next?
Come to listen to The Eight Words performed live in Chislehurst on 8th April! If you want to buy a copy, go to www.timboniface.co.uk/recordings. There are other albums available there too.

To listen to samples of Tim’s music click on the following link:-https://soundcloud.com/timbonifacejazz