The merging of jazz and religion in some Northside churches has taken a progressive foothold.
An artist on the ground floor of what has developed as a significant trend of bringing jazz and spirituality together is trumpeter/bandleader Lancaster Price. Price is responsible for jazz concerts at North United Methodist Church. He remarks that "About 10 years ago we incorporated a jazz worship service into our regular morning service. I took my jazz group in and we played Ö for a regular 11 o"clock Sunday morning service and that was the beginning of jazz at North United Methodist Church."
Steve Dokken and Mary Moss, performing the "Jazz, Jeans and Jesus" service.
Price says he initiated the idea of the jazz worship service by approaching the church"s clergy, who gave him support. Price says, "I did special arrangements of several of the standard church hymns and put a swing touch to them reminiscent of what Duke Ellington had done with liturgical music years ago." Price, who is a long-standing member of the church, no longer performs that type of liturgical jazz worship service, but is part of their monthly concert series where his group - all members of the late Larry Liggett band - perform three or four times annually.
Jazz and the clergy"s view
Northminster Presbyterian Church in Broad Ripple has begun a new progressive weekly service under the direction of Dr. Teri L. Thomas, entitled "Jazz, Jeans and Jesus."
Thomas says, "I am personally a jazz fan and have been for a number of years. I am a transplant to Indianapolis and I discovered Ö that Indianapolis is a big jazz city with lots of venues and a lot of good jazz groups. As I looked around, I saw that there were churches doing praise services and occasional jazz services, but no one was offering it on a regular basis. The reaction has been great. The older folk like it because they play older tunes. The young people like it because they play jazz and people are excited. I think that God speaks through all kinds of music."
The inaugural "Jazz, Jeans and Jesus" service was packed to Northminster"s capacity with casually dressed seniors and teen-agers. Gary Walters on piano, Steve Dokken on bass and Kenny Phelps on drums performed standard jazz tunes played with a reverent but deeply swinging sense of dynamics. Then, singer Mary Moss asked the congregation to join in on the traditional hymn "Fairest Lord Jesus." Led by Moss" soulful gospel singing, the trio heated up on the second verse, swinging intensely while the congregation"s sanctified singing swung right along with them. It was a spiritual moment, reflecting the meaning of what "Jazz, Jeans and Jesus" is all about.
Second Presbyterian Church has been performing its popular Second Sunday at Six jazz services each month for six years, featuring the Jack Gilfoy Trio, thanks to the pioneering efforts of its senior pastor, William G. Enright. An innovative religious leader before coming to Indianapolis, Enright started a similar jazz worship program in Chicago. "In the early "70s I did the first jazz worship service in Chicago. So we said, let"s see what we can do on a Sunday morning. We had a standing-room-only crowd there on Sunday morning. Jazz fits this service and it fits this context."
Joan B. Malik is executive administrator of staff at Second Presbyterian Church. "It is our fastest growing service," he says. "It is the service that probably welcomes more new members than our morning worship service. We find that casual does not mean irreverent. Who would have thought that people wearing T-shirts, blue jeans and sweat pants would come to Second Presbyterian Church in the evening and find God?"
The Second at Six service, led by Jack Gilfoy on drums, the Rev. Marvin Chandler on piano and Jack Huber on bass, performed "Gathering Music," a secular jazz offering with an ethereal feel. A musical and spiritual highpoint of the service was when Chandler asked the large congregation to join in on the traditional hymn "Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley." Chandler"s piano pulsated with a strong gospel jazz beat as his preaching voice sang out in spirit.
Fairview Presbyterian Church has presented its annual Ash Wednesday Jazz Service for over 12 years. The Rev. John R. Koppitch, Fairview"s pastor, is very positive about the Ash Wednesday Jazz Service. "I have done seven or eight of these now and I think they are a very effective blending of the contemporary jazz idiom together with some very ancient traditions of Ash Wednesday."
Listening to this service, I was impressed by Greg Imboden"s ability to blend classic jazz tunes like "So What" with the spirituals "Where You There" and "Song For My Father." Traditional hymns were played with a slight jazz tinge for the congregation to sing over that added freshness to this traditional service.
(Next week, the congregation"s perspective on jazz in the church.)
Chuck Workman is the producer/host of the Sunday Morning Jazz Show at 107.9 WTPI.