Baecker Jazz Worship Service
 
 

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 tuned.