God's Open House

Jazz Vespers

vespersJazz vespers at First Presbyterian are improvisational, inspirational, inclusive and informal – an excellent opportunity to invite family, friends and neighbors! Please see the Jazz Vespers 2016-2017 Schedule for information on the musicians featured this year and the missions that are supported through this program. For more information, please contact the church office or our Director of Music, Marilyn Rabbai.

A brief background on jazz vespers…

(The following information was taken from the web sites of Old First Presbyterian Church in San Francisco, St. Peter’s Church in New York City, and History of Jazz and the Church.)

“Jazz is a part of my inside journey with God!” The spiritual event that can take place when jazz is offered in worship has been wonderfully described by Rod MacDonald, a member of Old First Presbyterian Church in San Francisco: “The improvisational nature of jazz helps me create a freedom inside my mind. This freedom encourages me to explore thoughts………..Jazz can have repeating themes, but seldom are the notes always played exactly the same. In the same way, jazz at vespers encourages me to take a question, a thought, a sound, and shape it into many different meanings. For example: the sound of cymbals being tapped or brushed allows my mind to think about the pleasure of the moment; the influence of music and cultures of centuries past; what music sounded like in biblical times; and how pleased God must be there is jazz at Old First.”

Jazz vespers began in New York City in 1961 when the late Reverend John Garcia Gensel started an evening service at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church. It was designed for those musicians of his growing night ministry who couldn’t make it to Sunday morning service after those late Saturday gigs. He invited them to perform “a worship service by and for jazz musicians…the public is invited.” It became the church home for many of the musicians and their families. The legendary “Duke” Ellington was a frequent worshiper. He called Pastor Gensel “the shepherd who watches over the night flock,” and wrote a tune by that name which many groups have recorded. He actually wrote three sacred concerts, which have been performed in churches, cathedrals and synagogues throughout the world.  Jam sessions soon began at St. John the Divine in New York City. By the mid-1960’s, many of the era’s jazz legends were performing in these and other churches, and word began to spread about this unique worship service. Since then, jazz vespers services have become popular across the country, linking musicians, listeners and God at houses of all faiths and campuses like Princeton University.  At St. Peter’s Church, the beat goes on every Sunday at 5PM, when musicians come from New York and around the world, everyone is welcomed, and they are proud to be called “the jazz church.”