Following the revelry of Mardi Gras, the 47-day observance of Lent is considered a period of somber reflection and abstention. Two churches on the opposite ends of the city are hosting a series of free concerts in that spirit, of both sacred and secular music.
In the Garden District, Trinity Episcopal Church is sponsoring its fifth annual Lenten Jazz Vespers program on six Sundays from Feb. 14 through March 20. In the French Quarter, the Archdiocese of New Orleans’ Bishop Perry Center is sponsoring its annual Musical Prelude to the Celebration of Easter on six Thursdays between Feb. 11 and March 17 at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in the Ursuline Convent complex.
The jazz concerts in the Trinity series will run from 9 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. The St. Mary’s concerts start at 6 p.m. and run for one hour.
Featured in the Trinity series will be bassist James Singleton on Feb. 14, pianist Ellis Marsalis and his son Delfeayo Marsalis on trombone Feb. 21, pianist Matt Lemmler on Feb. 28, clarinetist Dr. Michael White on March 6, Preservation Hall saxophonist Calvin Johnson on March 13 and cabaret performer/vocalist Anais St. John on March 20.
The Trinity performances will be interspersed with Bible readings and prayers “in a spirited Lenten offering.”
Artists in the St. Mary’s Easter Prelude series include vocalist Valerie Francis with pianist Wilfred Delphin on Feb. 11; the Dapper Dandies with trumpeter Dante and vocalist Tiffany Pollack on Feb. 18; vocalist Ebonee Jewel Davis with Wilfred Delphin on Feb. 25; pianist Pierre Queval and violinist Mathilde Gandar on March 3; pianists Quinn Peeper and Michael Harold and organist Albinas Prizgintas on March 10; and the medieval/Renaissance musical ensemble, Musica da Camera, on March 17.
“We began with something called a compline, which is a late-night monastic service,” said Prizgintas, organist and music director emeritus at Trinity Episcopal. “We were doing classical pieces, but very few people were coming. So I got the idea to do a jazz compline and changed the name to Jazz Vespers because the name would be more easily recognizable.”
“This is New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, and I think it’s particularly appropriate to have something like this here.”
The Jazz Vespers series, Prizgintas added, “is not typically what you think of as meditative. It’s kind of a magical formula of Scriptural references and this thing we call jazz. It’s a spiritual form of music apart from just reading notes. I think it has benefited the performers to have people listen to their music in that new light of spirituality.”
The “Easter Prelude” concert series, at which donations are taken to benefit the Bishop Perry Center’s ministries for the disadvantaged of the New Orleans, began several years ago in conjunction with the opening of the Center in the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood.
The center, named after the late Bishop Harold Robert Perry, the first African-American to serve as a Roman Catholic bishop in the 20th century, opened its doors in October 2013.
The artists selected for this year’s series of concerts vary widely in styles and genres ranging from spiritual/gospel to classical to jazz. Francis and Davis are renowned opera singers and vocal instructors, the Dapper Dandies play vintage New Orleans-style jazz and Queval and Gandar are classically trained musicians from the prestigious Paris Conservatoire.
Peeper will perform Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor, Opus 16 with Prizgintas, as well as duos with Harold. Musica da Camera’s series-closing program, titled “Mary’s Lament at the Foot of the Cross” will feature a 13th century lamentation, “Planctus Mariae” (Mary’s grief).