GALVESTON — Among jazz greats, few are more notable than Duke Ellington, but even his most ardent fans may not know that he was a practicing Episcopalian who may have been instrumental in bringing jazz into his church.
Other notables who may have helped with the transition from swing to sacred are Mary Lou Williams and John Coltrane.
As the members of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas gather for their annual conference here in Galveston, they will be greeted by a number of Christian jazz artists at an opening service at Friday at the Galveston Island Convention Center.
“We’re a multicultural faith community with a conscious commitment to diversity, inclusion and radical hospitality,” said Martha Pulkingham, of St. James Episcopal Church in Austin.
“It seems fitting that we would include jazz as one of our worship expressions since jazz was born out of a synthesis of cultures, combining elements of African music with Western European music.”
For years, the church has reached out to local musicians, encouraging them to bring jazz and Gospel talent to bear at their worship services.
“We do often feature our own professional jazz artists as well as musicians from the community, all of whom add a richness and texture to our worship,” Pulkingham said. “But it is the broader essence of jazz — its improvisational quality with use of polyrhythms, syncopation, call and response and the swung note — that is one of the unique qualities of the music in our services.”
Worship as improvisation may seem an odd fit for a liturgical church, but at St. James, parishioners are rearranging their musical portfolio to keep it fresh and relevant.
“The psalmist tells us to sing a new song to The Lord,” Pulkingham said. “And in doing so, I think we can help make worship more vital and alive.”
It seems to be working. She said visitors told her that they had no idea that worship could be this much fun. The gathered representatives of the diocese will get a taste of that exotic experience this week.
Aficionados know that jazz claims to be America’s only original art form and that there’s more than one type of jazz.
Episcopal jazz includes Dixie Land, classic, smooth, Gospel,
At a glance
WHAT: Episcopal Diocese of Texas annual conference
WHEN: 6 p.m. Friday
WHERE: Galveston Island Convention Center, 5600 Seawall Blvd., in Galveston
Jazz Brunch Fundraiser
Episcopalians won’t have the only jazz on the island.
On the same day, The Jesse Tree’s Jazz Brunch Fundraiser will benefit both St. Paul United Methodist and The Jesse Tree.
It will run from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Feb. 8 at Moody Memorial Methodist Church, 2803 53rd St., in Galveston.
Tickets are $30. Call 409-599-4847.