There has been a quiet movement underway among jazz artists that has become a force in Indianapolis churches for months. Jazz is being performed in churches of various denominations, primarily on the city"s Northside.
For two years, Gilfoy has led his current trio in services at Second Presbyterian Church in "Second Sunday at Six" worhsip.
What is interesting is that each church utilizes jazz in its own way. Some have integrated jazz in the main body of services, others offer jazz as a special program. Historically, jazz and religion have had a kindred relationship. Ask most jazz musicians and they will tell you of that relationship. As legendary jazz drummer Art Blakey put it, "Jazz comes from the Creator through us to you." How did this spiritual bonding come about between local churches and the active community of Indy"s jazz artists? Saxophonist Greg Imboden is one musician who has been performing his annual Ash Wednesday Jazz Service at the Fairview Presbyterian Church. A 12-year member of Fairview, Imboden is an adjunct professor of clarinet and saxophone at Butler University"s Jordan College of Fine Arts and leads his own group, the Indy Express Band. Imboden says he inherited the service. "I took over the format from a musician who was not from Indianapolis who brought this new format to the church. I was a full-time member there so I took it over and it has been running consistently for over 12 years." Imboden says the Ash Wednesday Jazz Service idea was well-received by the church clergy from the beginning. "It set a good mood from the beginning of Lent and people asked for it each year." What kind of music could you expect to hear at an Ash Wednesday Jazz Service? I asked Imboden if he was swinging the liturgy and I was surprised at his answer. "We do some traditional jazz music. For example, we will play "So What" by Miles Davis, "Song For My Father" by Horace Silver, "Birdland" by Joe Zawinul. But we also are going to throw in some spiritual selections as well. There will be times when the congregation will be singing along with the instrumentalists. They will be singing traditional songs right out of the hymnal but accompanied more in a jazz flavor." Imboden"s Jazz Ensemble for this annual Lenten Jazz Service has Gary Walters on piano, Steve Dokken on bass, David Frank on drums and Imboden"s sax. The featured guest this year is Ms. Queen Williams, soprano. Imboden admits he would like to perform on a regular basis with the Jazz Ensemble in church services as opposed to playing just once a year. This year"s Ash Wednesday Service is March 5 at 7 p.m. in the Fairview Presbyterian Church at 46th and Capitol streets. Two individuals who have been highly instrumental in bringing jazz into Indy"s churches on a consistent basis with a different approach are the best of friends and have worked together professionally for years. Their backgrounds are distinctively different as jazz musicians. The Rev. Marvin Chandler is an amazing musician, a jazz pianist whose career as a clergyman and a jazz musician has consistently shown his ability to be productive in both careers. Chandler stated, "I understand the relationship between my faith and what I do as a jazz musician." Jack Gilfoy, on the other hand, is an educator on the faculty of IUPUI for jazz studies and a drummer who has had an enormously diverse musical career performing with top names such as Henry Mancini. Gilfoy has also produced albums from his own recording studio. For two years, Gilfoy has led his current trio in services at Second Presbyterian Church in a "Second Sunday at Six" worship. Chandler and Gilfoy will open a new vista in worship at the Northminister Presbyterian Church at 1600 Kessler Boulevard East Drive. A new evening jazz worship service titled "Jazz, Jeans and Jesus" with the Jack Gilfoy Trio with the Rev. Marvin Chandler and Steve Dokken will be part of Northminister"s regular services starting March 9 at 5 p.m. By traditional worship standards, regardless of denomination, this is a major breakthrough for worship in this community. Both men have a strong passion and devotion to what they view as a new tradition in worship services. "An awful lot of churches are groping for new directions to go in. The ministers are opening up their ears for advice from the people that go to those churches and they are willing to try any avenue," Gilfoy says. Chandler sees this trend differently and with some caution. "It seems sometimes to be an attempt in the church to attract people. That"s fine. There is nothing wrong with that if you understand that is what you are doing. I don"t want jazz to be seen as a utility. I think jazz is a legitimate part of the liturgy. The joy, the improvisation, the concept of melody and harmony in relationships, these all are part of Christian theology. We are not just Muzak in the church, we see ourselves not just as legitimate but as a necessary part of the celebration of our faith." Vocalist Mary Moss, who grew up singing in the gospel tradition of the African-American church, views the trend of jazz in the church as good, but says black and white churches have different perspectives in approaching jazz and worship. "The white churches have come to the realization that music can be played in their churches that might be secular and soothing but the words are what"s more important. They have accepted the fact that this is appropriate if tastefully done." She pointed out that black churches have a different standard. "When you go to black churches with these huge choirs with the organist, drums, bass and horns, you have got the same rhythmic beat but the words are different. You can bop and sing to the rhythm and get the same emotional high singing gospel songs." Today"s contemporary lifestyle has placed clergymen in a new position to present traditional Christian values in an ever-changing environment with jazz for the spiritual well-being of their worshippers. Next week: "Indy jazz goes to church" explores the clergy"s side of the intersection of jazz and spirituality. Jazz happenings A fresh approach to break the cabin fever cycle is as close as the warm jazz sounds in Indy this week. Downtown Ruth"s Chris Steakhouse"s "Sizzling Steaks & Jazz" will welcome back the great vocal stylings of Wendy Reed"s Trio Sunday, March 9 from 7 to 10 p.m. The Chatterbox has the jazz pop vocal sounds of Tim Brickley on Friday, March 7. The new sounds of the Kevin Kouts Group with Paul Holderman on guitar takes the bandstand Saturday, March 8. Music both nights runs 10:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. The Elbow Room has the soft jazz of Tom Sullivan on guitar and Duncan Putman on bass playing the Sunday Jazz Brunch from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. The Tom Sullivan Trio plays every Friday night from 7 to 10 p.m. Northside The Jazz Kitchen has a party-filled weekend with the eclectic popular sounds of Dog Talk Friday, March 7 at 8:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. It"s jazz, blues, soul and swing when Mary Moss & the Carl Hines Quintet light up the room Saturday, March 8 at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. Sullivan"s Steakhouse has a weekend of hot jazz. Claude Sifferlen is at the piano, with Joe Deal on bass and Kevin Johnson on drums Friday, March 7. The rhythm section remains the same for Saturday, March 8 with John Spicknall featured on piano. Music both nights goes from 7 to 11:30 p.m. New Fountain Lounge will welcome back the sultry jazz vocal sound of Cynthia Layne with the Jason Curry Quartet Wednesday, March 12 from 7:30 to midnight. Heron at Geist has saxophonist Tommy Wills Trio playing "Jazz to Dance To" Wednesdays and Thursdays from 7 to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday they play 8 to 11 p.m. Westside Rick"s Cafe Boatyard features saxophonist Richard Torres Quartet on Fridays; Monika Herzig"s Acoustic Trio plays on Saturday. Music both nights runs from 7 to 10 p.m. Chuck Workman is the producer/host of the Sunday Morning Jazz Show at 107.9 WTPI.