This music was the result of a direct request to write
a jazz worship piece by Garth Baecker. Mr. Baecker approached
me and discussed the idea of a new piece several years
ago. The Western and Eastern associations of the Illinois
Conference of the United Church of Christ scheduled
a celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the denomination
for April of 2007, and Garth commissioned me to compose
a work for the event. At the time, I assumed this would
mean a single movement composition, but a meeting with
event organizers revealed that they wished to have an
entire worship service written!
Through the course of the meeting, a few guidelines
emerged. The church wished the piece to reflect their
theme for the year which was light, and more specifically,
This Little Light of Mine. Also, they requested writing
a New Orleans sounding piece for the Offertory. I suggested
utilizing music in all the traditional places within
the service: Prelude, Gospel, Hymn, Offertory, Communion,
and a piece for closing. Everyone at the meeting agreed
and the only addition was a reharmonization of the traditional
Doxology that follows the Offertory.
The Offertory, composed first, presents a groovy New
Orleans strut over an asymmetrical formal design. As
composer, I wanted to reach way back into the jazz tradition
and write a work that would feature the drummer, who
creates this “2nd line feel.”
Throughout the course of the piece, the band interacts
with the drummer who serves as the glue that holds the
work together. You can hear the band become downright
snotty and childlike in how upsettingly playful they
try to be while interacting with the drummer.
In the end, the will of the drummer prevails, the band
gets onboard, and the movement finishes never having
compromised the groovy feel. Stunning solos are delivered
by trumpeter Art Davis, trombonist John Mose, and bassist
Jeff Halsey. The two big heros in the performance of
this movement are our drummer David Taylor and our lead
trumpet player, Roger Ingram who both give, without
reservation, true offerings of musical greatness.
The next piece I wrote was St. Anthony’s Light.
The composition is a hardbop contrafact written over
the tune of This Little Light of Mine. I wanted to set
This Little Light in 5/4 time, and just before I began
writing, decided to compose a new melody in a hardbop
style. In the recapitulation, you can hear both the
composed melody juxtaposed against This Little Light
of Mine in the background. David Hoffman plays a great
trumpet solo and Chris Collins follows superbly on tenor.
Tom Garling turns in a great trombone solo. Hats off
to the entire saxophone section for their interpretation
of the soli!
The Gospel: John 21, was selected by the officiating
ministers and determined by the liturgical calendar
for the date of the premier. In it, I tried to capture
the carefree attitude of fishermen by the sea and their
overflowing nets of fish, all while accompanying the
reading. Matt Michaels’ piano solo adds a great
deal to the presentation of the text that is energetically
delivered by the Reverend DaNita Bell. I love her voice.
It was about this time that I added the Doxology. The
piece is a simple prayer written in a chorale style
that has been substantially reharmonized. It is scored
for brass only and DaNita Bell sings a beautifully prayerful
rendition of this hymn.
The Communion was placed and arranged at the insistence
of my wife. Some years ago, I wrote a composition for
a friend of mine who tragically died while on the road
with the Rolling Stones. Royden “Chuch”
Magee III made his home in Marquette, Michigan and when
not touring with the Rolling Stones as their road manager,
would come hear me and other area musicians perform
in local clubs. He was the kind of guy that would bring
gifts from all over the world to the children in the
area, or a youth group at a church.
Chuch had a big road case that he traveled with to provide
for the needs of the band. From time to time, he would
nap on his road case. While in Toronto, Canada, preparing
for a concert, Chuch laid down on his case and died.
(You can see his road case at the Rock and Roll Hall
of Fame in the Rolling Stones Exhibit in Cleveland,
Ohio.) All of us who know Chuch were deeply affected
by his passing. I remember feeling a terrible sense
of loss and wrote a composition dedicated to him entitled
And Now You’re Gone. Since writing it, I have
only performed it on very few occasions. Rick Simerly
captures the essence of the composition in his performance.
Matt Michaels, at my request, improvised a masterfully
conceived introduction that displays compositional integrity
and is thematically tied to the movement. It offers
a tiny glimpse at the depth of his musical ability.
Two movements remained to be completed, the closing
and the opening. I knew the closing was going to be
This Little Light of Mine, and I wanted it to be something
to feature DaNita Bell and the special qualities of
her musicianship. The introduction utilizes an ascending
bass line with the melody presented in two separate
keys. In the shuffle that follows, the rhythm section
creates a hard swinging feel that makes it almost impossible
not to tap your toes. David Hoffman’s trumpet
solo and Russ Miller’s Alto solo reach to the
very core of the hardbop tradition and Rick Simerly
gives a clinic with his plunger solo. Try to listen
to it and not smile!
Rick makes the plunger talk a tradition dating back
to “Tricky” Sam Nanton of the Duke Ellington
Orchestra. Finally, Gunnar Mossblad and Chris Collins
propel the piece into the stratosphere as they share
solo space in a typical Basie style tenor battle. DaNita
Bell’s performance tops off the movement and entire
composition. She is just incredible!
The final piece of writing was the prelude, In The Beginning.
I wanted to explore a jazz treatment of the creation
of the world as told in the Book of Genesis. In doing
so, I was able to utilize the stated theme of the entire
work in a biblical sense, light. The horns create wind
sounds in the early part of the movement which add to
a surreal feeling of emptiness. I want to thank Chris
Steinmetz for his ability to apply technical effects
that accentuate the surreal nature of the musical space.
DaNita provides the voice of God as it is carried along
on the wind. Light, at times, can be very dissonant
if you are not expecting it or your eyes hurt for any
reason. The ensuing dissonances and cacophony portray
the chaos that might occur under such circumstances.
As all eyes adjust to the brilliance of the light, the
beauty of the Garden of Eden is set lyrically in a slow
lilting consonant waltz. Gunnar Mossblad’s beautiful
tenor solo is interwoven over the musical landscape
and adds a haunting and lovely quality to the texture.
Finally, five bell tones announce the creation of humankind.
The chords have buried in them a dissonance low in the
voicing that represents our free will. These bell tones
sound a caution and reminder that we can choose to be
good stewards of the natural treasures and gifts created
for us all, or we can watch and participate in their
destruction at the hands of environmental irresponsibility
and corporate greed. Which way will it turn out?...Stay