Monday, September 26, 2005

Improvising A Book Review: “Prayer and All That Jazz” by Karen Cameron-Brook

Anyone who is a regular reader of this Blog is aware that I enjoy reading. I often review books in this space, and read many more books that I choose not to mention here. In many cases, after reading the work of an author, I have had a chance to meet that author face-to-face and have developed a relationship with her or him. In other situations, I have written to the author and have thereby started up a correspondence. So, it is not unusual for me to know authors whose works I enjoy. In the present case, the sequence has been reversed – in that someone who has been a special friend for many years has suddenly emerged as a gifted author whose first book I have just enjoyed reading.

Karen Cameron-Brook and her husband, Mitch Brook, have been friends of mine for years. We were part of the same church on the Seacoast of New Hampshire, and over the years, I have enjoyed their hospitality, musicianship, friendship and support on many occasions. Mitch and I play tennis together and share a passion for the Red Sox. Karen is kind enough to indulge our frequent forays into Fenway and onto the tennis court. (Karen even mentions in her book one of the Red Sox games that Mitch and I attended.) Karen has had a fabulous career as a jazz singer, and I have been privileged to hear her lovely voice in many settings and to sing with her on more than a few occasions. Karen is not only a gifted musician, but she is one of the kindest, sweetest, warmest and most welcoming human beings that I know. I guess one could say that Karen has a keen ear, a silky voice and a golden heart!

As is fitting for a jazz musician, Karen’s life has been a long string of improvisations and modulations – all of which are stories that have been begging to be told. She has finally taken the time to tell those stories and to craft them into a very readable and inspiring volume that she calls: “Prayer and All That Jazz.” In the space of 235 pages, Karen skillfully weaves together the tale of twin pilgrimages – her career as a musician and her spiritual journey as one who has come to embrace a faith that is both very personal and very public.

I picked up “Prayer and all That Jazz” expecting to read the written version of familiar stories I had heard Karen and Mitch tells over the years that I have known them. In some cases, the stories were familiar to me – in other cases, it was all new and intriguing information. I had no idea that my friend, Karen, had been runner-up in the Miss America Pageant’s contest to crown “Miss North Dakota”! Her music has beckoned her to such spots as the Hollywood Bowl, Carnegie Hall, Buenos Aires and Alaska. Her journey of faith has called her to places as disparate as Chicago, Brooklyn, The Seacoast of New Hampshire and the remote village of Yetebon, Ethiopia.

Karen talks, in the chapter entitled “A Quiet Place,” about her first short-term Missions trip to Ethiopia, where she would spend a few weeks teaching music and English to several hundred school children:

“I was afraid to face the children with their toothpick limbs and swollen bellies. I was afraid that I would be covered with flies and bitten by malaria-carrying mosquitoes. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to eat for two weeks. I prayed that God would take away all my fears. He did.

There had been several months of preparation – paperwork, visas, fundraising, collecting supplies. The trip was a long one – Boston to Newark, New Jersey, where we boarded Ethiopian Airlines; refueled in Rome; and landed, finally, in Addis Ababa twenty hours later. The Benedryl I took had not made me drowsy. More than once, I talked myself out of claustrophobia – strapped into a tight space – nowhere to move in the cabin crowded with Ethiopians. The six-hour drive through the Ethiopian countryside that followed customs clearance felt like sheer freedom and delight.

I now stood speechless in front of several acres of colorful, healthy, vegetable gardens – the only ones within a hundred miles. ‘Whether a garden small . . .’ the words from “A Quiet Place” were ringing in my ears. A magnificent, volcanic mountain range just a few miles away ('. . . or on a mountain tall,' the song continued) provided a dramatic backdrop for the school and medical center being constructed. I had expected arid plains, drought and famine. Instead, I found breathtaking beauty.”
(pages 193=194)

That is Karen and that is her song! She manages to find beauty in unexpected places, situations and people, and to find beauty and peace in God’s love and grace. This is a book for anyone who loves jazz, and it is also a book for anyone who enjoys eavesdropping on a life-long journey of spiritual discovery and fulfillment.

The book and Karen’s CD’s are available for order by e-mail at

Or by mail at:
Karen Cameron
Viva Voce
P.O. Box 391
North Hampton, NH 03862

Karen will soon be headlining a concert and book-signing event in Portsmouth, NH, but that will have to wait until she returns from her next trip. She leaves in a few days for a return visit to Ethiopia. Once the date and venue for the book-signing have been confirmed, I’ll let you know.




Anonymous said...

Just blogging about looking for info as my blog is still a work in progress,as most of my time goes on my Trojan
related site Trojan is my life's

Anonymous said...

Hey Al! Prayer and All That Jazz is a Fabulous Book! I agree! ...can't think of many more qualified than you to critique Karen's storytelling prowess! Thanks for sharing!
~ Catherine