Douglas played some of his mother's most adored hymns at her funeral. He also recorded them, along with several traditional folk songs, as Be Still, an album so fervently intense this writer was moved to tears.
"I'm glad you cried," he says. "Don't take that the wrong way - I cried, too, the first time I listened back. I've had a lot of letters from people who've connected that way, but I get the sense it is an uplifting mourning, a healing and a salve. The verses she chose feel like she really wanted something spiritually universal, something about that connection we all make to each other and to the spirit.
"She didn't know I would record it," Douglas says, "but I'm sure she knew I would do something special with it. I had never made a record of my own with a vocalist before, and the experience brought me to a lot of new places."
Dave Douglas went to Presbyterian Sunday school until he was about 7. As an adult he has tried to find a church where he's comfortable.
"My spiritual path has found meaning in many different traditions and philosophies," Douglas says. "I have come to believe that there is a similar message one ultimately finds in all religions, and it is incumbent on us to respect the particular traditions that brought us into this world. I would say that the process of this record has brought me closer to that reconnection for sure."
For the funeral service, the trumpeter arranged his tunes for brass band and congregational singing. In January 2012, Douglas had met folk singer Aoife O'Donovan at a bluegrass/jazz meeting and they got along handsomely. O'Donovan seemed the ideal artist to bring the hymns into a modern jazz context. Douglas redid his arrangements for a quintet - yet found an alluring mix of folk and improvisational jazz. Would he have gone this route if his mother hadn't requested the hymns?
"That's a really interesting question," says Douglas. "I don't know. I know I would not have encountered church standards like 'Be Still My Soul,' 'This Is My Father's World,' and 'God Be With You.' The folkiness of the approach is just the only way I could imagine doing them."
This whole experience surely affected Douglas when writing his own modern hymns like "Going Somewhere With You," a challenge for any composer, let alone one so bound to this particular collection. Ask him about that challenge and Douglas laughs. "Stevie Wonder said it best in his interview with Tom Jones: 'You have to get up every day and find a new way to say "I love you." ' Sometimes the simplest songs are the hardest to write."
Dave Douglas and his quintet, with guest pianist Uri Caine and vocalist Aoife O'Donovan, play at 8 p.m. and again at 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Chris' Jazz Cafe, 1421 Sansom St. Tickets: $30. Information: 215-568-3131, www.chrisjazzcafe.com.