Jazzing up the Usual Routine

Jazzing up the Usual Routine

By Norm Freeman on Jun 01, 1995 at 12:00 AM in The News

Norm Freeman will perform Jazz Vespers for the Soul at St. Michael and All Angels Church on June 1.

By Michele Marr

In 1994, Norm Freeman was on the road with Barbara Streisand, a member of the band for her reunion concert tour. When the concert played a local Orange County venue, the musicians stayed at the Four Seasons at Fashion Island.

That's when Freeman found St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in Corona del Mar.

"When I travel, I love to visit churches," he said, recalling his first visit to the church campus nearly 10 years ago. "That was long before I could have imagined I would someday be living in Southern California."

Not only does Freeman now live in Southern California, he is now also an Episcopal priest. In 1994, he entered the General Theological Seminary, and during his studies received pastoral training at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. He was ordained in 1997 and became curate at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Greenwich, Conn.

In March 2000, he had a chance to move his family to Santa Barbara where he is now Vicar of the Church of St. Michael and All Angels in Isla Vista, Episcopal chaplain for the UC Santa Barbara and founder of a ministry called Jazz in the Church.

The priest is a Grammy award-winning percussionist. He earned a bachelor's and a master's in music from the Julliard School. He played with the New York Philharmonic for almost two decades, working under Leonard Bernstein, Zubin Mehta and Kurt Mazur. He performed in the orchestras of the Broadway productions of "Grease" and "A Chorus Line."

He has played with Metallica, Paul McCartney, the Moody Blues, Lionel Ritchie, Barry White and Rosemary Clooney. Has been timpanist for the New York Pops since the orchestra was founded 20 years ago, and he still returns to New York to play five concerts a year under the direction of Skitch Henderson.

Next weekend, Freeman will visit St. Michael and All Angels in Corona del Mar again, this time to play Jazz Vespers for the Soul, the final concert in the church's 2002-03 Friends of Music First Sundays at Five Series.

"I fell in love with [this area] before I entered seminary, while traveling with Barbara Streisand's band and staying at the Four Seasons, [but] I never could have imagined the journey that would lead to my upcoming visit," he said.

Along with Freeman, who will play the vibes, the service will feature three other jazz artists, pianist Theo Sanders, bassist Putter Smith and drummer Kendall Kay, all well known for their talents and musically creative voices.

"[They] are among the busiest players on the jazz scene," Freeman said. "They can pick and choose what they want to do. They especially enjoy playing for the community that gathers in churches for these services."

Vespers is one of two customary hours of prayer in the Church. Its roots go back to the traditional evening prayers of ancient Israel. Once called Lucernarium, in English "lamp-lighting time," it begins with a prayer of blessing at the rising of the evening star.

In the Western Church, the present form of the evening prayer service includes a hymn and by two psalms, a New Testament canticle, a short lesson, a short responsory, the Magnificat with antiphons, and prayers.

"Jazz vespers is a synthesis of traditions. It blends the age-old liturgy with the unique musical language we call jazz. It's spontaneous and collaborative. It gives voice to the human spirit through a musical language that transcends the limits of speech," Freeman said.

The services attract multigenerational audiences, and many who attend are not members of the church that hosts a service. People often come with family and friends, and sometimes, they don't expect to enjoy it.

But people like it when they give it a chance, Freeman said.

"Heads bop, toes tap and bodies sway during the music," he said.

Tim Getz, minister of music at St. Michael and All Angels in Corona del Mar, says Episcopalians can be a very traditional about their church music.

"[They are an] organ-and-choir loving bunch, but once you hear jazz vespers, you're converted," he said. "And I like the little jokes [Norm] slips in from time to time, like when he plays 'Pennies from Heaven' during the offering."

Freeman's Jazz in the Church ministry and it's Web site, jazzministry.org, is meant to be a resource for others who might want to introduce jazz vespers to their own church community, to help them learn from Freeman's experience and the experience of others.

"We try to give it all away," he said. "Jazz vespers has a freshness that is open to God's spirit. For me, it's been a wonderful path to deepening my relationship with God. At its best, it's inspired."