Quartet to play jazz vesper at Simi church

Quartet to play jazz vesper at Simi church

By Norm Freeman on Nov 30, 2010 at 04:25 PM in The News

By Karen Hibdon

Posted November 30, 2010 at 4:25 p.m.

A service melding traditional church liturgy and jazz music will take place Sunday at St. Francis of Assisi Episcopal Church in Simi Valley.

Jazz vespers, open to the public, will be followed by a wine and hors d’oeuvres reception. It is the fourth time the Rev. Norm Freeman’s quartet has performed at St. Francis, said the Rev. Steve Dean, pastor.

In early November the group gave a similar repeat performance at St. Columba’s Episcopal Church in Camarillo.

“They’re good,” said the Rev. Greg Larkin, St. Columba’s pastor. “I have the unique position of being part of it and I really enjoy” the service.

While other churches present jazz vespers, the uniqueness of this group is having a priest as its leader. Also, “what may make what we offer very special is the level of accomplishment of these individuals playing in our group. As we say of fine musicians, ‘They can play,’” Freeman said.

Similar to evening prayers of ancient Israel, jazz vespers takes place at sundown and the rising of the evening star. The church’s Book of Common Prayer, according to Freeman’s jazz ministry website, http://www.jazzministry.org, “preserves the evolution of these early forms of worship and prayer in a way that is faithful to our heritage and open to creating new traditions.”

Age-old liturgy is combined with jazz music that is rooted in the human experience. Among the earliest peoples to sing “the blues” were African slaves in America. African melodies, combined with European rhythmic music, were the foundation for jazz.

Freeman, 58, is rector and headmaster of St. George’s Episcopal Church and Academy in Laguna Hills, where he lives with his wife, Lori.

Others in the quartet are pianist Theo Saunders, bassist Putter Smith and drummer Kendall Kay. On Sunday, Ramon Banda will fill in for Kay.

Freeman, who plays the vibraphone (vibes), has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music from The Juilliard School. He has toured with Barbra Streisand; performed with the New York Philharmonic and New York Pops; and played at the 1999 MTV Music Video Awards, “Saturday Night Live” with Luciano Pavarotti and Vanessa Williams, and more.

In 1994 he entered the General Theological Seminary in New York and received a master of divinity degree. He was formerly Episcopalian chaplain at UC Santa Barbara and vicar at the Church of St. Michael and All Angels in Isla Vista.

Since offering his first jazz vespers on All Saints Day in 1998 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Riverside, he has presented 180 others. All have been at Episcopal churches, “although I am sensing the Spirit moving me to widen the circle of relationships,” Freeman said.

St. Francis, with its retreat-like atmosphere, is an ideal setting, Dean said. “It takes you away, and the service itself kind of takes you away.”

At this point in his life, music and ministry are one, Freeman said. “They are my passion. They are a big part of what makes me, me.”

Sharing a meditation someone once gave him, he added, “Where you find your passion, there you find your heart. Where you find your heart, there you find love. Where you find love, you find God. Music brings me closer to God and to the people God calls me to love and serve.”

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