The thought of playing jazz in the church never crossed my mind until I met a dynamic pianist by the name of Kevin "KC" Conley in my freshman year of college. At that point in time, I was really just looking for a church home away from home.
I will never forget the Sunday I walked into what was then Victorious Believers World Ministries (VBM). The people were extremely friendly and welcoming, the church building itself looked like a small-mega church with a huge parking lot. But above all, the musicians in the left corner of the pulpit produced a live sound that I had never heard in a church before.
This band sounded like an R&B/Soul band, in church and in my hunger to learn more as a musician, I gravitated to the band.
I remember at times when I'd be so tuned in to their riffs and licks, that I forgot I was in church. It was more of a Mary J. Blige, Musiq Soulchild, Jill Scott-type of vibe in the place. Only when KC hopped on the organ did the sound actually give a churchy feel. KC is also a dynamic organist.
I naturally gravitated to KC and the VBM band (Russell Smith, Dave Mann, and a different yet talented drummer every Sunday). KC and bass guitarist Russell became like big brothers to me. We'd stay for hours after church jamming and ocassionally they'd stop the music and open my mind to a new way of harmonization and improvisation.
KC's knowledge and love of music was definitely the driving force behind that sound. I am especially appreciative for his patience. He was the first to show me the capabilities of a jazzy, not-so-churchy sound as a tool for creativity, composition, instruction, and growth.
To truly understand what I am articulating through literature, check out KC's website and his new instructional DVD, both are awesome. http://prettysimplemusic.com/
In December of 2009, Jason L. Smith took me under his wing and introduced to me the element of playing pure jazz in (and out of) a church setting. I mean straight bebop, ragtime, stride, and swing piano, in church! It was totally unpredictable jazz. The voicings, intervals, and chords were clearly of a totally different structure than that of gospel or R&B. It's more of an apple to oranges comparison.
Jason himself is, in my view, the epitome of a jazz pianist. He knows the music and out and has traveled the world playing with all sorts of bands and big names. I've heard him absolutely rock the house at a jazz club before. He plays in a way that makes you want to withdraw your life savings and spend it all on jazz piano recordings.
Yet you can find him tickling the ivories at the Lovejoy Baptist Church on Sunday mornings. Check out Jason's website here. http://schoolofpianoarts.com/
Imagine hymns and popular gospel tunes being reharmonized in such a way that you can recognize the tune, but you know in your mind something different, something magical, is taking place musically.
That's what I'm looking to do in the coming years as I develop, listen, and learn. The challenge is breaking away from gospel. Literally de-programming myself of all of the gospel I've learned and heard through the years. I'm laying that sound down for the joys and big world of jazz and I've been privileged to learn from two great pianist.
This new sound has been in the works for quite sometime now since my first encounter with KC, then taken to another level with Jason, but I still feel as though I can give more. My plan is to, like those two gentlemen, bring jazz theory into the church for a sound so unique, so different, so eccentric, and yet so moving.
Jazz is all about the music. Gospel is all about the message.
God Bless and Peace