You Are Warmly Invited to an Evening with Bill Carter, author of “Thriving on a Riff: Jazz and the Spiritual Life” — book on sale for 20% off

Thriving on a Riff: Jazz and the Spiritual Life William G. Carter (Broadleaf Books) $26.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59


There’s a lot of reasons to attend an author appearance at your local bookstore or event venue. Some writers are rather solitary and to be in the presence of a writerly artist is its own sort of gift. Some — quite often nonfiction writers — are real experts on their topics and are often great and lively teachers; there is so much to be learned, and who better to take in than a freshly published author, telling about her book? There is the energy of being in a room with like-minded book lovers, and there is the treasure of getting an autographed book. (And for some, the idea of knocking off your list a very special Christmas present — maybe with the signed book actually made to your loved one— is fabulous.) Who doesn’t like an author event and book signing?

Hearts & Minds here in South Central Pennsylvania is very excited to host an author, for all these reasons and more, if you are anywhere near-by on Friday night June 28th, you should come. You’ll learn a lot. You’ll be inspired. You’ll laugh. Maybe you’ll cry. You’ll be with others. You’ll meet Bill Carter, an outgoing Presbyterian pastor and great writer whose new book is on the relationship of jazz and the spiritual life. And you know what? He’s not only going to talk about the book and respond to questions (and, of course, sign books) but he going to play some tunes, too — maybe some classic jazz standards and surely some of his own mind-bending piano compositions. The fun starts at 7:00 at First Presbyterian Church in downtown York. All are welcome.

Hearts & Minds has partnered with various local venues to host a number of great authors over the years, from journalist and faith activist Jim Wallis to musician and writer Michael Card, memoirist Lauren Winner to lit prof Karen Swallow Prior, medical missionary and peace activist, Jeremy Courtney to contemplative teacher Ruth Haley Barton, historian John Fea to parenting guide Joanne Miller, public scholar Andy Crouch to public politico Michael Wear, from Amish novelist Beverly Lewis to world-famous Biblical scholar N.T Wright. Wright also played some music, some of you will recall, as he did a Dylan song on a borrowed guitar. (“Did Brian Walsh,” — most recently co-author of Romans Disarmed and a new edition of Beyond Homelessness — “put you up to this?” Tom laughed, knowingly. Indeed. And then went viral for a hot minute.)

So our old pal Bill Carter is standing on the shoulders of a pretty esteemed crew who have joined us here in the Dallastown area to present on their books. We’re delighted that FPC, our home church in York (on the corner of Queen & Market) is willing to co-sponsor this, since they have a great piano in the sanctuary. This isn’t Bill’s first appearance at First Pres, either: years ago his band, Presbybop, led a jazz worship experience for us to a packed house. Our event isn’t a concert, per se, but a talk on his recent book and a conversation about the role of the arts — in this case, jazz — and how it can enhance and accompany the Christian life. But there is going to be music. You might even want to bring your dancing shoes.

Thriving on a Riff: Jazz and the Spiritual Life came out a few months ago, published nicely by Broadleaf Books, an imprint of 1517 Media. I reviewed it HERE and we were grateful that a number of folks pre-ordered it even before it came out. It has gotten really good reviews in various places. Recently, the great Green Room folks, who usually focus on faith in the work-world and the sanctification of the ordinary callings of ordinary folks, wrote about it HERE. 

Others who have written about this topic, like Kirk Byron Jones (author of The Spiritual Treasure of Jazz and The Jazz of Preaching) wrote,

The stories, insightful connections to theological thought and spiritual experience, and unabashed passion of Thriving on a Riff will be memorable music to your soul. Take your time and savor; there is vibrant reflective inspiration here.

Yes, indeed. Order the book and savor it. Slow down, learn a bit about the arts and jazz, sense the importance of this exceptional American art form (often drawing on black cultural histories and advancing the cause of racial justice) and see how it might move you. I bet that you, like me, will not want to put it down and not want it to end. It’s a book worth having.

It’s a book that helps — get this! — in both the ups and downs of our Christian lives, the happy, fun times, the exquisite moments of awe and mystery, and for the lament of great sadness, personal and social. Believe me, I need these different styles to help me find ways to cope with my own different sorts of human experiences and emotions. Don’t you?

Thriving… is also a book worth experiencing live, hearing the author tell his stories and play his songs. If you’re able, please just us as our guest does just that; as he playfully teaches and educates us well, through storytelling and reading from the book and by playing the keys. He’s a gifted orator/preacher, a good storyteller, and a very talented pianist. Without being goofy or maudlin about it at all, playing is a deeply spiritual thing for him and his listeners; as Bill puts it, he was born to “pray the piano.”

Don Saliers — the famous mainline Protestant organist and church music scholar (and father to Emily of the folk-rock duo the Indigo Girls, who wrote a terrific book with her dad called A Song to Sing, a Life to Live) — is a big fan of Reverend Carter. Saliers notes that Thriving on a Riff is a “feast” and “no less than a love song to the art and genius of improvisation.”

He continues, perfectly,

“…it is also a musical primer about transcendence and the risks of Biblical faith.”

Transcendence. Many of us know the experience, having had a glimpse of the ecstatic, a mystical moment, a bona fide encounter with the Divine, perhaps even ineffable. And it sometimes happens through music.

Perhaps it is through a sacred piece by Bach or the upbeat majesty of well-known works like “Brandenburg” or “Pachelbel” or the famous adagios by Barber or Albinoni. I have my reasons, but I almost always weep when hearing a good version of “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring.” But such an emotional sense of something sublime happens for many of us in rock music, too — from the soaring prog rock of the three Yes songs on “Close to the Edge” to the incredible, long coda of Layla to some of Paul Simon’s most literate pieces to those blazes of genius from Dylan to the scat singing of Van Morrison to nearly anything by U2 (and did I mention the Indigo Girls?) I encounter God often when listening to Bill Mallonee or Bruce Cockburn; many of our BookNotes readers have their own favs, but many would say listening to music is a spiritual practice. From rock and folk, soul and funk, for some, hip hop and for some, old-school country, from the mass choirs of black gospel to the quiet brilliance of Orthodox Arvo Part to the evocative mood of Irish ballads this is all sacred ground. It’s another post but I could list dozens of very recent pop artists who move me very, very deeply, such that I would say listening to them is a blessing of common grace.

But jazz.

Oh my, that is a style that is almost quintessentially laden with deep spiritual concerns.

Largely instrumental, the layers and rhythms, the collaboration and experimentation, the improvisation and often the very minor keys, the longing and yearning and then the final hints (or blasts) of resolution — all so very often point beyond themselves, offering nothing short of signals of transcendence. From the early works of the great Duke Ellington to John Coltrane’s famously raw prayer, A Love Supreme that released in 1964, to complex worship services composed by modernist jazzman Dave Brubeck (Bill’s friend, by the way) to the demanding weirdness of Sun Ra, there are overt spiritual themes that become obvious for those with ears to hear.

Bill Carter’s easy-to-read but often very moving introduction to faith and jazz is, by far, the best thing I’ve read on this notion that the jazz can speak to us, move us spiritually, and (for followers of Jesus) be an aid in our awareness of the Spirit and somewhat of a guide towards living faithfully in the world. This book, by way of history and stories and first-hand episodes and examples, gives us those ears to hear.

Jazz critic (and author of Vince Guaraldi at the Piano) says that “jazz is born of diversity; it requires openness” He maybe learned that from Carter but he says (on the back cover of Thriving on a Riff) that jazz can “overcome bigotry and unite all who embrace it.” That’s a big dream, of course, but as Bill “rhapsodizes about the timeless euphoria of wholly embracing a transformative jazz performance” we get glimpses of how this works. One of the really great themes of Thriving is how racial justice concerns have been woven throughout the history of the genre. For those who care about racial reconciliation and for the church to be more multi-ethnic and diverse as it should be, I’m confident that Thriving on a Riff will help.

Carter is a Presbyterian preacher and pastor so he knows Reformed theology, and could easily note how the possibilities for art and music are rooted in a robust doctrine of creation. We Calvinists understand something about sin and idolatry, too, so Bill could also easily explain how jazz grew out of very hard times in US culture, from racism and economic disenfranchisement (not to mention weed and heroin and other unsavory pressures.) But, yes, the Biblical story unfolds from a good creation distorted by sin towards a cosmic redemption in Christ as the suffering and Risen Lord brings the reign of God to bear into all of life. We are — as another book that Bill wrote put it, “on a pilgrim road.” We don’t always yet see God’s healing and wholeness and shalom and goodness breaking out over all creation, but we see glimpses. We keep moving towards the new creation.

What better art form to tell this nuanced and subtle story than jazz?

In one chapter, after a “lesson in dissonance” he talks about “That Healin’ Feelin'” which he calls “The Soundtrack of Restoration.” Right on, man.

Thriving on a Riff shows us where jazz comes from, tells stories from the lives of some of the greats, illustrates his points with his own expertise and piano-craft, and moves effortlessly between the smoky clubs of late Saturday night to the dawn of Sunday morning church. Jazz has a lot to do with human spirituality, generally, and a lot to do with Christian discipleship, specifically; Thriving makes it clear, inviting, exciting.

With chapter titles like “Prayers Lifted on a Saxophone” and “Babel and Bebop” and improvisational interludes like “Swinging with Purpose” and “Late-Night Thoughts on Listening to Coltrane’s Ascension”, with chapters like “Broken and Beautiful” exploring “what it means to be human” and improvisations like his “Homily from the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Guaraldi Mass”, this is all exciting, theologically rich, and will, in his words, help you “listen for Selah.”

Look. You don’t have to be artsy or bohemian to like this book and you sure don’t have to be a jazz aficionado. If you are, then you know this book if for you, and you need to get it A-SAP. But even if you don’t read a lot in the arts or about music, particularly, my sense is this will be informative and inspirational for you. It could fill in the missing colors in your reading palette and be a bit of strong food or drink for your reading diet.

Come on out if you can to hear Bill next Friday night, June 28th, at 7:00 PM in the glorious sanctuary of First Presbyterian Church in downtown York. Books and some of his CDs will be available for purchase. There will be some light refreshments.

If you can’t attend, please order the book now. As always, we have them at 20% off so if you are a BookNotes reader, please send an order our way. We’ll send ‘em out promptly.


You can order an autographed copy now. We will get them signed for you, either just with a signature, or made out to somebody special (if you clearly tell us to whom you want the inscription.) It will be a busy, fun night and we’re happy to add your request for signed books onto the stack.  We can then send them to you in early July. No extra charge for this nifty added value.

We’d be delighted to do this leg-work for you so if you want a signed copy, don’t hesitate to make that clear. If you want the inscrption to go to somebody’s name, just write the name as you want it written in the blank space at the Hearts & Minds order form page. Or give us a call at the shop before Friday night.




It is helpful if you tell us how you want us to ship your orders. And if you are doing a pre-order, tell us if you want us to hold other books until the pre-order comes, or send some now, and others later… we’re eager to serve you in a way that you prefer. Let us know your hopes.

The weight and destination of your package varies but you can use this as a quick, general guide:

There are generally two kinds of US Mail options and, of course, UPS.  If necessary, we can do overnight and other expedited methods, too. Just ask.

  • United States Postal Service has the option called “Media Mail” which is cheapest but can be a little slower. For one typical book, usually, it’s $4.33; 2 lbs would be $5.07. This is the cheapest method available and seems not to be too delayed.
  • United States Postal Service has another, quicker option called “Priority Mail” which is $8.70, if it fits in a flat-rate envelope. Many children’s books and some Bibles are oversized so that might take the next size up which is $9.50. “Priority Mail” gets much more attention than does “Media Mail” and is often just a few days to anywhere in the US.
  • UPS Ground is reliable but varies by weight and distance and may take longer than USPS. Sometimes they are cheaper than Priority. We’re happy to figure out your options for you once we know what you want.

If you just want to say “cheapest” that is fine. If you are eager and don’t want the slowest method, do say so. It really helps us serve you well so let us know. Thanks.


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Hearts & Minds 234 East Main Street  Dallastown  PA  17313

Sadly, as of June 2024 we are still closed for in-store browsing.

We will keep you posted about our future plans… we are eager to reopen. Pray for us.

We are doing our curb-side and back yard customer service and can show any number of items to you if you call us from our back parking lot. We’ve got tables set up out back. It’s sort of fun, actually. We are eager to serve and grateful for your patience. We are very happy to help, so if you are in the area, do stop by. We love to see friends and customers.

We are happy to ship books anywhere. 

We are here 10:00 – 6:00 EST /  Monday – Saturday. Closed on Sunday.