While many a church on Sunday is lulled by the more somber sounds of prayer, the Minister of Jazz prays with a groovier vibe.
Once a month, the Reverend Peter H. Rood, Jr., The Minister of Jazz, turns his church into Jazz Vespers, a hip, happening jazz venue, inviting believers and skeptics alike to “Keep jazz alive!” as the Reverend himself exclaims.
At 6 p.m. Sunday, November 16th, Joe Bagg and Friends, fixtures on the Southern California Jazz scene, will bring their hepcat sensibility to the high ceilings of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Nativity in Westchester.
Vespers refers to the set time for evening prayer in the monastic tradition.
“The day ends and the evening begins; it’s a rather reflective time. It also references the light that’s often lit during the service,” says Rood, who’s ever exuberant when it comes to talking about the evening.
The service/jam session starts with lighting candles and saying a brief prayer. Then a “cacophony of voices” recites prayers and readings with the musicians. The prayers and readings are intended “for those from any or no faith,” says Rood. “They are crafted so people don’t feel assaulted; maybe we’ll read from the Vedas, or Hebrew scripture, or even The New York Times.”
After the cacophony, spoken word artist Aaron Zane Hernandez drops some serious hip-hop commentary. Hernandez’s stage name is ERA a.k.a. Murecul Murecul, which comes from combining the first two letters of the words music, revolution and culture. He describes his poetry as “spiritual, conscious, political, and philosophical.”
To wrap up the service, amidst all that wonderful wailing, The Minister brings it down a notch, to conduct a moment of silent reflection. After a final prayer or reading, it’s time for a straight set of jazz while Bristol Farms furnishes fruit, wine and cheese.
St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in New York City initially inspired the idea for the Reverend Rood’s jazz night.
“Many years ago, I was in New York, and I went to a service conducted by the original Minister of Jazz, and I said, ‘I wanna grow up to be like you,'” says Rood.
Many hungry artists are especially glad Rood made good on his dreams, as the church has done much more than just open the doors to allow them to play.
“We’re very serious about creating a venue for young talent to bloom,” Rood says. Several of the young musicians are playing clubs all over Los Angeles and then go on to New York after their appearance at Jazz Vespers.
Rood speculates as to why the musicians are so responsive to the vibe: “It’s a good audience; very focused. Not a jazz club with clanking glasses. It’s a veryÖ sweet environment. It’s fresh each time. It’s never the same. And the musicians love the improv of the whole service.”
The musicians aren’t the only ones who dig the scene. When asked about the Vespers’ environment, Hernandez, the poet, gets very serious and says, “It’s a wonderful place. It’s not a religious thing; it’s a spiritual thing. It’s a love base. It’s a friendship base. The first time I did the show I felt the love.”
Regardless of belief, faith or denomination, Jazz Vespers puts together a special evening.
Loyola Marymount professor of English, Michael Datcher, a poet and author who has performed at Vespers in the past puts it this way, “When you create, you’re doing what God does.”
The Minister of Jazz doesn’t force God onto anyone, but he does create quite a spiritual atmosphere. But sometimes, good jazz just can’t be explained any other way.
Admission is by free will offering. Holy Nativity Episcopal Church is at 6700 W. 83rd. St., Westchester.
Information, (310) 670-4777 or www.holynativityparish.org/.