One professor at Bethel went from playing target practice with glass bottles in the middle of rural Minnesota to living in the inner-city of Minneapolis – and teaching jazz.
By Abby Petersen
When people at Bethel see the man in the red and white plaid shirt, slicked back hair and a pencil tucked behind his right ear, they know it’s jazz orchestra director Jason Harms.
What they might not know is that he lives in the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis, where bikes have been stolen from his garage and men have been caught trying to hijack his minivan from his driveway.
But when someone asks Harms about those things, he shrugs them off. “The Lord has given me a sweet place to live down there,” he says.
Harms is originally a farm boy who grew up in Luverne, Minnesota. He came home after school and practiced marksmanship on glass bottles and barrels. When he was a senior in high school he heard Frank Sinatra, Count Basie and Quincy Jones sing – and then he knew it was all over. He fell in love with jazz. That same year he hopped in a car with a friend, took a left at the big oak, and followed the country signs until they found 35W and eventually what was then known as Northwestern College. Harms studied music and business there until 1995.
Since then, he’s been swinging with jazz.
His students see his passion for jazz.
“Even when he prays,” sophomore Noah Tedlund said, “it’s like a jazz poem.”
After his schooling at Northwestern, Harms started a jazz quartet and began subbing for the jazz orchestra at Bethel, before he came to be full time.
“The Lord gave a lot of grace that year,” Harms said. “Sweet grace.”
Harms knew coming out of college that a jazz musician doesn’t make a top salary, but to him that’s not important. The Lord provides in his own ways, Harms says, and he feels blessed to be able to use his jazz skillset as much as he does. Harms is thankful that he, his wife and five children have a place to call home in South Minneapolis, where he now runs an arts nonprofit called the Gaius Project, which focuses on providing for the needs of local artists who may have empty fridges at home.
“I wanna see the way the Lord sees,” Harms says. For Harms, that means seeing Jesus in everything, because nothing that exists came into being without God.
“Jazz is really about fellowship,” Harms says, and he doesn’t just mean for the people playing. Harms wants to see his students develop a skillset that will enable them to participate in the greater fellowship that is the pleasures of the Lord.
Harms plays because he knows he has found the true source of all pleasure: Jesus Christ.
“Death is not my end,” he says, leaning back in his chair. “In Christ, it’s actually my liberation.”
The reporting and photography for this story took place in spring 2016.