Daily Pilot June 07, 2007

Daily Pilot June 07, 2007

By Norm Freeman on Jun 07, 2007 at 12:00 AM in The News
I was blown away by a very special kind of spiritual music called jazz.

This week, the Bell Curve is a clueless but enthusiastic music critic.

That's because on last Sunday, I was blown away by a very special kind of spiritual music called jazz at the Saint Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church in Corona del Mar. If there were any atheists in the audience that day, they have to be wondering if the music we heard could possibly have been less than divinely inspired.

It was generated by a group under the direction of Norm Freeman (on the vibes), with Theo Saunders (piano), Putter Smith (bass) and Kendall Kay (drums), each of whom offer musical resumes of their work individually over several decades, with many of the greatest musicians in the business, from pop to Broadway to classical. Name dropping would fill the rest of this column and need more space.

But last Sunday, we could just be grateful that they have settled in nearby parts of Southern California, both to work at their music in our blessed environment and to have fun by playing gigs like St. Michael's just — if I can be permitted a bad joke — for the hell of it. Father Freeman has another, closer connection. He was ordained as an Episcopal priest in 1997, and is now priest-in-charge of St. George's Church and Academy in Laguna Hills.

Last Sunday, the musicians — improvising much of the time — had almost as much fun as we did in the audience, converting such ballads as "Pennies from Heaven" and "It Might As Well Be Spring" and the operatic "Summertime" to a jazz beat in arrangements they often created themselves. The music offered islands of jazz between Biblical commercials by Pastor Peter Haynes, and somehow Duke Ellington and Ecclesiastes didn't seem at all incompatible. As Father Freeman says: "Jazz gives voice to the human spirit through a musical language that transcends the limits of speech."

Over and beyond the inspiring program — or rather because of it — the thing that struck me most about this Sunday afternoon Jazz Vespers was the abundance of empty seats. Church members said this was actually a good crowd, but from my perspective there should have been jazz aficionados piling up at the door. I would gladly have paid concert rates to hear this music, and to see it performed gratis before empty seats seemed like a great waste to me.