[Square & Compasses]

A more recent version of this article is available.

Date: Thu, 04 Jan 2001 13:46:57 +0200
From: "Tungel G|lsoy" <begog@superonline.com>
Subject: Jazz and Freemasonry, 

Dear Friends,

This is the latest version of my speech "Jazz and Freemasonry" after several contributions made by my brothers. It will be red at "Freedom" lodge of Istanbul, Turkey on January 4th Thursday.

Please disregrd the previous draft edition and take this version into considerataion.

Please share it with brothers who might be interested. I hope that you will find it interesting. I will appreiate if you may send me your comments for future editions of the same topic.

Fraternally Yours

Tuncel Gulsoy

Jazz and Freemasonry

(MUSICAL PRELUDE: IN THE MOOD/ Papa Bue's Viking Jazz Band)

Worshipful Master and Dear Brethren,

There is a name list that I will like to share with you, please lend me your ears:

  • Louis Armstrong-Jazz Musician
  • Count Basie-Composer, Orchestra leader
  • Irving Berlin-Entertainer
  • James Herbert "Eubie" Blake-Composer and Pianist
  • Nat "King" Cole-Great ballad singer and pianist
  • Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington-Composer, Arranger, Pianist and
  • Orchestra leader
  • Lionel Hampton-Composer and Orchestra leader
  • William C. Handy-Composer "Father of the Blues"
  • Al Jolson-the Actor of the first talking picture (sound movie) (Jazz Singer)
  • Glenn Miller-Orchestra leader
  • Adolphe Joseph Sax-Inventor of the musical instrument saxophone
  • Paul Whiteman-Orchestra leader "King of Jazz".

Now please let me ask you a question:

What is the common denominator among these people?

Louis Armstrong and Count Basie are well known great jazz musicians and I am sure that you know their names. Many of the songs of Irving Berlin's songs have been a part of the classic jazz literature known as the jazz standards. The same popularity in the world of music is true for both Nat King Cole and Duke Ellington.

Duke Ellington's orchestra has been considered as the most prominent jazz group of its era. Duke has always written music to bring out the best abilities and creativities of his team members. Yet throughout the years many musicians have joined or left his group and Duke has rewritten his music according to the talents of his new members. This is how he has become a continuous source of inspiration and a milestone for countless musicians throughout his life. Nat King Cole is still popular for the musical heritage he has left for us many years after his death.

Al Jolson has been the leading actor of"Jazz Singer" the first sound movie of cinema history.

Glenn Miller has paved the way of Big Bands in the music world to unprecedented height.

Saxophone, the most jazz associated instrument of jazz music have been invented by Antoine Sax.

Now, I will like to repeat my question once again. What is the common denominator among all these names?

Your natural instinct will prompt you to say "jazz". Yes, "jazz" is the right answer, but there is still a missing part to it.

All of the names above have passed away long ago leaving us with their unforgettable deeds, and all of them are your brothers, Freemasons. In fact the list is not limited to above names and there are many other jazz musicians in the craft tough they are less known in the world.

Is there a link between jazz music and Freemasonry?

When my Worshipful Master have instructed me to make a speech at the temple, he has warned me that it had to be related to Freemasonry. He also asked me to choose my topic right at that particular moment. For a second I have thought about the most influential things in my life.

The immediate answers were jazz and Freemasonry.

It is a fact that I am trying to act like a true mason both in my private life and business life. Yet I also know that neither I am at the perfection level that I desire to be, nor I will ever be able to get there during my limited lifetime.

On the other hand there is a second guiding culture in my life. I live according to teachings of jazz philosophy as well. All my approaches to matters of life, all the solutions that I produce and the flexibility that I assume during these processes are all based on what I have learned from the great world of jazz music.

I have replied to my Worshipful Master after a brief pause and said: "I will like to make a speech about jazz and Freemasonry if you let me."

He was bewildered and replied: "Is there a link?"

I had six weeks and after a short while I have realized that maybe I had bitten larger than I could have swallowed, yet the bid had been already cast.

Today I will like to share some of my thoughts that I have processed during that period of isolation within my inner world with you my brethren.

First I will like to start by examining our own craft.

What is Freemasonry?

As always has been the case before I have consulted the beautiful basic reference book written by one of our past grand masters in Turkey Doctor Enver Necdet Egeran.

"Freemasonry is a western culture promoting and progressive institution. Creating love and cooperation links between decent people of higher moral values.

Freemasonry helps the social and cultural maturity of humanity.

According to this institution, work and labor are the principle duties of human race. Respect and tolerance to individuality and personal opinion are two founding stones of this school of thought. The members target developing themselves first, and then they develop their own society by being developed themselves.

Self-control is a prerequisite; accumulation of knowledge and the creation of the environment, which will lead to this self-control, are indispensable elements of self-development Freemasonry is not limited to written texts, which may lead to half descriptions, misunderstandings and misinterpretations.

Accumulation of knowledge is expressed under a veil of allegories, and illustrated by symbols and signs so that it may transcendent the nations and generations intact.

A Freemason is the person who always thinks and creates new thoughts while continuously questioning the old ones. Thinking towards new ideas is the principle duty of a freemason and the basic foundation of a modern society.

According to Freemasonry creating new thoughts is the basic driving force of a developing society.

This is why the Freemasons continuously develop new thoughts about all the allegories and signs that they were presented with.

Freemasonry is a science, and an institution of initiation. Brothers leave back their old lives and direct themselves towards a noble new way of living. Freemasonry means continuous progress and development.

All the people with merit and faith are brought together with a universal bond of brotherhood. All the brothers learn to be tolerant to each other's mistakes, imperfections and weak points.

There is no racial or linguistic differentiation between the brothers in Freemasonry.

Work and labor are as important as thoughts in Freemasonry. Action is the complementary arm of creating thoughts"


All these quotations are extracted from the book of past grandmaster Egeran. Yet I had a point to extract these specific quotations. I am seeking the links between jazz and Freemasonry and all these thoughts are extracted according to this target.

Yet looking at the matter through a wider perspective, one may also notice that all of the above statements are also parts of the greater western school of thought and civilization.

Western civilization has reached this level through many stages of development since the 17th century. The accumulated knowledge of humanity is increasing continuously.

Mankind has first learned speaking, and speaking is followed by the ability of writing.

You may also see writing as a symbolist expression of spoken languages.

Writing has made it possible to accumulate and develop thoughts and organization of them of them around certain structures.

No other institution than Freemasonry have managed to consolidate the personal abilities of individuals into a single power which is continuously available for the benefit of humankind without any doctrinal restrictions.

"Yet, please let me ask you: Is this statement absolutely correct?"

Though all members are a part of a whole, each individual is a unique and an unlike part of the total. Human beings are treated as individuals with their own identities and are not forced into pre conceived social structures. Development of personality is of prime importance. Individuals are encouraged to develop their creative expressions.

In order to achieve these targets the developments of freedom, wisdom and finally tolerance is inevitable.

Brethren, let us pause, as there is a question that I will like to ask you at this point.

What is jazz?

MUSICAL INTERVAL ( DUKE'S PLACE / L. Armstrong-D. Ellington)

Jazz is widely accepted as a form of music. It has originated from the city of New Orleans at Mississippi delta region of United States about one hundred years ago. It has spread out along to the northern parts of United States through this river.

Why is New Orleans the birthplace of Jazz?

New Orleans of those days was the city of immigrants from France.On the other hand slaves from West Africa were part of the other inhabitants of the city besides the Creole. The Creole were frequently well established economically, and had ties to Europe. Frequently their children were educated in the schools and music conservatories of Europe, and these people had some freedom to inter-mingle with White society that the Black society did not have.

On the other hand Slaves had also imported their polyrhythmic and pentatonic interval music from Africa to New Orleans. In those days there were other slaves at other cities of America but at no other city than New Orleans where French origin immigrants have lived they were treated with the same tolerance to their culture. Slaves were allowed to sing their original songs while they were working and this have helped them to preserve their musical culture.

This meeting of cultures in New Orleans has a complex history of its own and is worth investigation. In any case, at a certain point after the American Civil War, in a racist backlash against the "Reconstruction" the Creole gradually lost their quasi-"white" status and began to meld, economically and socially, into the black society.

This is often said to be the when and where the European musical forms of the day like gavotte, polka, march and others began to mix with African-descended rhythms and harmonies.

Time have passed, Americans have lived their civil war that has ended the institution of slavery. Armies were dissolved and soldiers were released of military duty.

Army bands were also liquidated. The end of the Spanish-American War of the 1890's brought a cheaply available flood of brass band instruments to the streets of New Orleans. The Negroes had brought their music to America but they have also met a new musical style in what would become their new homeland. This new music was traditional European music. They were especially fascinated by the 2/4 and 3/8 marching rhythms of the military bands. The other influence came from the new religion that they have encountered in the new continent. They became Christians. The pain of their agony during days of slavery was soothed in the churches, and the music that they have heard comforted their souls. These were largely religious hymns. They had simple yet strong and colorful melodies and structures. Their French origin masters have taught black people the dance and melodic forms of the traditional European music.

As time went by, a new music emerged out of this blend of cultural heritage. The rhythm of West Africa merged with the musical forms and melody of the old continent.

The immigrants of the new continent have created a new music there.

This new music was rooted in the old African and European styles, yet it offered a new joy and liveliness that no music had offered before.

The new music was called jazz.

Today there are different speculations about the origin of this name but the word "jazz" was accepted to define this new music.

The immigrants from Europe and Africa had created a new nation that was rooted in their old continents yet it was distinctly different.

The same was true for their music; jazz was new and distinctly different.

The Freemasons have founded The United States as the embodiment of the ideal Masonic Republic, and the new state has founded her own music, jazz.

Then, can we say that this is a coincidence?

MUSICAL INTERVAL (AFTER ALL / Duke Ellington-Billy Strayhorn)

In reality the American masons have created a new approach to the concepts of the state and the religion.

Until that day the religions had promised its followers a "Heaven" that had existed in the other world after their death.

The founders of America searched for the "Heaven" on this life and in the world that they live in. They have started making their homeland, their country and their state as the "Heaven" itself.

In a short while the United States has become the number one prosperous and developed republic on the world. The concepts of equality, fraternity and liberty become the founding stones of the new country and materialized into reality out of conceptuality.

They became the realities of everyday life for ordinary citizens of the new world long before they were adopted in the old continent after the French Revolution.

As for jazz music, we have more to say:

Jazz also developed tremendously after coming into the world of music.

The different cultures, which have fed the roots of jazz, have increased everyday. Different stylistic eras of jazz music have emerged. Ragtime, Boogie-, New Orleans, and Dixieland eras have came and gone. This was followed by Swing, classical and be bop times.

Today we are witnessing the emergence of new influences and new styles in jazz music. It seems that there will always be new searches and approaches in jazz for it is a continuously evolving art form.

My point is not conveying you the history of jazz. Yet there is something that I will like to underline strongly.

Jazz have never stopped in continuing its development and being open to different roots. It has been nurtured by many different cultures by being open to them as well as nurturing back those cultures. Thus jazz became the true universal music for the mankind.

Today we have reached a point where it is virtually impossible to define the concept of jazz music. There is no common denominator left to define what jazz is technically including the concept of improvisation.

There is one definition that may be considered as unanimously accepted: Jazz is expression of what we live through as sound.

The great jazz master and brother Duke Ellington have expressed these phenomena as following: "In future there will not be jazz, there will only be good music and bad music."

This original music of America is turning out to be the universal sound and language of humanity as it grows and in the meantime spawns back the very roots that it is originating from.

In short we may conclude that the music of African immigrants of the new continent have become the most interesting music of the 20th Century. Jazz in 100 years has developed much more than the classical European music could have achieved in 700 years.

In my humble opinion this phenomena resembles the spread out of brotherly love of Freemasonry to all directions without any boundary.

Although it is not considered as the common denominator for all varieties of this music, improvisation concept still occupies a very important place for the jazz musicians and their audience.

Improvisation as a word may assume different meanings, but for our purposes we will define it as "plying music the way you wish and feel". Yet this freedom and feeling also has certain limitations although there are no strict rules about it. When we say that a jazz musician is plying a solo, what we really mean is that he or she is plying a predetermined measure of music the way she feels. This may also mean composing as well. Usually the musician will be plying certain notes, melodies and chords but she will be quite liberal in choosing the length and pitches of the notes that he is plying.

In that sense the musician recomposes the preconceived music and creates a different interpretation according to his own feelings.

This is also one of the basic differences between classical and jazz music. In order to improvise, a musician has to have a great musical knowledge and master skill to handle the musical instrument being played.

The concept of improvisation is not totally new to European music.

Variations over a certain melody have been a widely explored musical expression in the old continent. This tradition has also found its way to the New World along with the immigrants from Europe. However it has reached a totally new dimension there.

We may elaborate a little how it developed in the world of jazz music.

In this music the main melody is called the "phrase". All the phrases related to the main melody are called "thematic phrases". When a jazz musician adopts this melody to his own personality it is called "paraphrasing." Plying style where melody is barely recognizable is called "chorus phrase".

Over the years the concept of phrasing has developed. There are phrases written over the harmonic base of a melody, and a totally new melodic line comes into focus in this kind of music. Here it takes a real golden ear to recognize the basic melody.

In my opinion this concept of phrasing resembles the allegoric expression practiced in Freemasonry. Over the years the jazz music just like freemasonry has started conveying her message in symbolic ways.

Before starting plying a jazz group first determine the tonality, harmonic structure and rhythm of the music that they are going to perform.

Then they decide on the sequence and the playing measures for each performer.

Detailed arrangements are made for the different players and their individual instruments. Every individual tries to do their best during the performance and brings out his best on the table. Each performer has to ply multiple roles. Sometimes he or she becomes the leader; there are also times when each participant has to be the follower.

Being both leader and follower is one of the typical features of jazz music's nature.

At this moment we may ask once again what jazz is and elaborate its features from a Masonic point of view. Let's go back to what we have said about freemasonry:

"Freemasonry is a western culture promoting and progressive institution. Creating love and cooperation links between decent people of higher moral values.

Freemasonry helps the social and cultural maturity of humanity.

According to this institution, work and labor are the principle duties of human race.

Respect and tolerance to individuality and personal opinion are two cornerstones of this school of thought. The members target developing themselves first and then the whole society that they live in by being developed themselves.

All the concepts mentioned above are equally valid for jazz. Respect to individuality, progress through labor, and tolerance is also the hallmarks for jazz music. Let us go revert to the above definition once again:

There is no racial or linguistic differentiation between the brothers in Freemasonry.

Work and labor are as important as thoughts in Freemasonry. Action is the complementary arm of creating thoughts."

The same is also true for jazz, those musicians who ply this music do it together while hearing, supporting and completing each other. The real goal is always exceeding yourself and becoming better while being in harmony with other fellow musicians, preserving your individuality while being a part of the whole.

Allegoric expression of thoughts is also valid for jazz. Instead of strictly plying according to musical notes the music is performed according to the specific time and conditions at the time of plying.

It is never played the same way twice. It is reshaped continuously according to what each individual performer lives through at the moment of the actual performance.


This time let us revert to what we have said about jazz music and define it through a different perspective.

Jazz music is a new art form in music with a unique rhythmic structure and sound color. It demands the utmost technical virtuosity and creativity from its performers and followers.

It is clear that in order achieving this level of virtuosity and creativity is only possible by being a sincere and a free-minded person. That person also has to be trained to perfection, also seek that kind of perfection as an individual and be able to decide on the spot according to the prevailing conditions.

While making a solo, the performer is alone on the stage but his fellow musicians continuously support him, and compensate for his flaws during the playing and help in case he is in need.

Jazz musicians do not work at official lodges like the freemasons. Yet the feeling of brotherhood, solidarity, and freedom, being uncomfortable in preconceived patterns are also valid concepts for jazz.

Jazz musicians also possess the same duality as freemasons. They have ambitions deep inside their souls while they have to be humble by nature for progress.

They balance these seemingly contradictory virtues while trying to develop themselves and continue being creative.

As you may easily notice this time we have started with jazz concepts to reach the Masonic ones.

Another interesting similarity between these two orders is the concept and feeling of initiation.

The concept of initiation is not expressed in jazz music with official degrees as in Freemasonry. Yet the jazz world also has unwritten, unofficial degrees for the musicians.

One may easily notice that individual biographies of jazz musicians are stories of individuals going through unwritten levels of musicianship.

Yet it is possible that one of you may make such a remark: There are strict codes and lodge rituals, which are non-existent in jazz.

This view may depend on the perspective one may utilize to evaluate the statement. There may be two different approaches. The rituals of a Masonic temple may seem strict for an outsider such as the procedures of meetings, opening of the lodges, and the degrees of the meetings.

On the other hand the performance of a lodge between the official procedures is actually performed by improvisation like in jazz music.

Kindly remember how we realize speeches, conferences, and other activities at the lodge.

Even in the so-called free natured jazz music there are certain plying traditions and styles. Improvisation is also performed according to certain rules and regulations. There are preconceived intervals, where you may improvise music but again this is still subject to certain technical rules.

There is another side to this discussion. The life outside the lodge is also an important part of a freemasonic existence.

In my opinion freemasonry is initiation of a person to being a perfect and mature individual according to certain moral values and patterns.

The same person also takes personal initiative and responsibility in this process.

Yet this is only one side of the mirror.

What about our lives outside of the temple, we must also elaborate on that.

There we are only guided by what we have learned from the accumulated knowledge of Freemasonry. The life is a long and difficult road. It is not possible to teach a solution to each specific situation and problem encountered on this voyage. Every mason has to improvise on life's surprises according to the principles that he has learned during the time he has spent at the temple.

Freemasonry is a continuous improvisation of a moral theme on the long and winding road called life.

Masonic themes just like jazz chords and melodies lead the way for a freemason but he has to walk the line according to his own personal interpretation.

There are times he may feel alone like the jazz musician improvising the melody by rewriting it. Yet again he, like the jazz player is not alone, for he enjoys the comfort of knowing that he may always seek the assistance of his brothers.


You may say that what we have said about jazz music is also true for other forms of art and music. Yet no other art than music may create the common form and level of joy among the audience like music. And no other kind and form of music is open and tolerant to other musical cultures like jazz.

In my opinion both jazz and Freemasonry are two most distinguished driving forces of change and progress in the history of humanity.

One of them is dominated by wisdom and logic. The other one is dominated by perception and feeling One of them is closer to our materialistic world the other one is closer to our spiritual world.

Humanity has continuously faced new concepts right after its existence. We have always wondered about what is the true meaning of life, why we are born and live, why we die and what is after life that we do not know.

Many questions around this context were asked investigating the true meaning of life. During this search many explanations were conceived about the existence of humanity regarding the meaning of life. This is a never-ending process and everyday newer explanations are on their way. On the other hand the true meaning of existence is as remote as ever to our perception as new explanations are produced everyday.

Closer we get to the Grand Architect of the Universe; less we understand his true meaning.

Yet we never give up the search for the eternal truth.

I truly adore jazz music and feed my soul with this indispensable source of inspiration and expression on every day I live on this planet. The more I listen to jazz, the more I feel inadequate about it. As time has passed on I have started feeling that it is virtually impossible to make a distinction about jazz among other musical styles.

All of the musical styles are integrating into one medium, and newer sounds are emerging like the colors of the rainbow among them. No one can exactly say where jazz starts and ends. Yet everyone close to it appreciates that jazz is renewing itself to new richness in musical expressions.

I have personally met and interviewed many jazz musicians. I have written articles about their lives and views. I have noticed that everyone has a unique definition of jazz, which is highly individual.

Many of them have answered my basic question about what jazz is all about.

This is the most commonly agreed answer that I have heard: "Jazz is expression of what one has lived as sound and feeling." I will also like to add the following: Jazz is not something that is performed by jazz musicians.

Jazz is a life style. It is a guideline for questioning the meaning of human existence for those who seek this truth.

In fact the whole life is jazz, a spiritual improvisation over a physical theme. Or it is an abstract improvisation over a concrete truth. Just like the improvisation in freemasonry over divine wisdom.

Brethren, I have not been your guest to teach you anything. In fact I am not capable of teaching Freemasonry.I do not intent to teach jazz music to my music-appreciating brothers too.

I do not mean to say that jazz and freemasonry have unquestionable and tangible links. Yet I dare to say that both of them are important pillars of human culture.

I notice certain resemblances while being aware that considerable differences exist.

In my humble opinion the greatest similarity and link can be noticed in the fact that both institutions respect beauty.

At this point of my life I am trying to see things with a new point of view.

As a brother who is deeply involved in jazz music I had always felt that there was a tangible link and similarity in these seemingly unrelated subjects.

Today I have made an effort to investigate the reasons behind this similarity.

I have tried to share some of my findings with you, my brothers.

  • Louis Armstrong-Jazz Musician
  • Count Basie-Composer, Orchestra leader
  • Irving Berlin-Entertainer
  • James Herbert "Eubie" Blake-Composer and Pianist
  • Nat "King" Cole-Great ballad singer and pianist
  • Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington-Composer, Arranger, Pianist and Orchestra leader
  • Lionel Hampton-Composer and Orchestra leader
  • William C. Handy-Composer "Father of the Blues"
  • Al Jolson-the Actor of the first talking picture (sound movie) (Jazz Singer)
  • Glenn Miller-Orchestra leader
  • Adolphe Joseph Sax-Inventor of the musical instrument saxophone
  • Paul Whiteman-Orchestra leader "King of Jazz".

Brethren, I will like to ask you once again, What is the common denominator among these people? I guess that now you may say jazz and freemasonry.

This is the correct answer, but still there is a missing point.

All of these names belong to human beings.

Both freemasonry and jazz are means and instruments for us in search for the truth.

Freemasonry have always taught us to search for the truth but sometimes the truth can be closer than our expectations and we may have difficulty in perceiving it.

My true intention, in addressing to you my dear brothers, is creating a platform of opinion exchange and a foundation for exploring the two unseeingly related pillars of truth in our lives.

I will be delighted if I had managed to start any curiosity for a further question in search of the eternal truth.

Please accept my sincere gratitude for your tolerance and listening.

I hope that the divine truth will enlighten our efforts as before.




Biography and Acknowledgements

1-Freemasonry with its real aspects (Gercek Yuzuyle Masonluk)/ by Dr. Enver Necdet EGERAN

2-Inside Jazz (Caz±n Icinden) / by Cuneyt SERMET

3-Various issues of "Jazz" Magazine, Turkey. (Articles and Interviews with jazz artists) By Tuncel GULSOY

I will like to express my gratitude to the following brothers for their assistance:

4-Bro. Ray S. Richardson [INLINE] for the list of the jazz musicians who were Freemasons

5-Bro Gary L. Dryfoos [INLINE] for historical corrections, and comments on the English version

6-Bro. Edis Embil [INLINE] for invitation to "Freedom" and assistance in English translation

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