Late on a Sunday evening, in the expanse of the historic Trinity Episcopal Church, Lent’s weekly evening prayer explores the spiritual nature of jazz with some of New Orleans’ finest musicians at the helm.
The 30-minute Jazz Vespers will take place at 9 p.m. every Sunday during Lent, through March 29, at Trinity Episcopal Church.
“We often get asked why we do jazz during Lent, when it is supposed to be a sad and contrite time,” said Albinas Prizgintas, director of music ministries at Trinity Episcopal Church. “One of the things is we wanted to show the spiritual nature and the meditative nature of jazz, which is stereotypically associated with beer houses and bars.”
Although meditative to many implies slow and subdued, Prizgintas explains that the term can be interpreted more freely, and over the past four years, vespers attendees have seen some incredible performances as a result.
“Over the years, we have had some stunning performances; one of my favorites was Ed Petersen’s very memorable duet with Victor Atkins,” Prizgintas said. “We have also had visiting musicians from Europe and Japan. And the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz was a lot of fun with a bunch of young players.”
With the flexibility to take ownership of their performances during the vespers, musicians choose a variety of music. Often it’s not overtly religious music, instead varying from Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington standards to improvisation.
During the 30 years that he has been involved with the music programming at Trinity Episcopal Church, Prizgintas has learned to step back and allow the musicians to do their thing.
“The few times I have made a comment I have regretted it. I find if you leave people alone, it turns out much better than you would have ever dreamt of,” Prizgintas said.
Jazz Vespers has been a feature of the music program for the past four years. Prizgintas decided to introduce jazz during Lent’s evening prayers after encountering the concept in New York City.
“The whole idea with mixing jazz with Scriptures, if you are not accustomed to it, is a rather strange coupling, but it has a certain magical quality to it because of that,” Prizgintas said.
Marsalis, who has been performing regularly at Trinity for the past 30 years in various music programs, is a regular fixture at the Jazz Vespers. Renowned for attracting high-profile musicians, Trinity has created an environment that provides a rare opportunity for musicians to come and play what and how they like, to an audience that is fixated on the essence of what is being played.
“It is a high-visibility place, with ease of access, and it is a safe environment,” Prizgintas said. “We have the experience to allow them to take ownership and become part of it.”
March 1: Matt Lemmler
March 8: Ellis Marsalis and Delfeayo Marsalis
March 15: Steve Masakowski and Victor Atkins
March 22: Ingrid Lucia with Amasa Miller
March 29: Amanda McCarthy and Hezekiah Brinson