Tuesday, May 1, 2007

On the Road

I think I'm the only Presbyterian minister who takes a week of vacation to tour with a jazz quartet. For five days I'm out on the road with the Presbybop Quartet. The whirlwind tour is taking us through Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Erie.

On Saturday, we played a concert at the Ben Avon Community Church. The music was great, but the occasion was bittersweet. Ben Avon's pastor, Brent Dugan, passed away tragically last November. We offered a memorial concert, and presented a new piece of music in memory of Brent. Titled "The Last Word," it's a haunting ballad, and an appropriate way to remember a good soul.

Since we were in the neighborhood, Linda Williams dropped by. We've been pals for twenty years, and it was great to see her. She has always been such an encouragement to me, and was a dear friend of Brent's as well.

The next day, we stop in Sewickley to lead music for two morning services at the Presbyterian Church. Sewickley is a classy town, and it was a hoot to bring some syncopation to the sanctuary. They want us to come back some time, and that would be a lot of fun.

Soon after the benediction, we hit the road for Cleveland, just two hours away. We have an evening concert at the Rocky River Presbyterian Church, in the western suburbs of the city. Al reminds me that it's the home town of Sammy Kaye, the sweet swing bandleader, but I assure him that we won't be playing any of Sammy's music. The crowd is appreciative, and we're grateful to musician Ginny Roedig and pastor Jon Fancher, who serve as our hosts.

Monday is a well-deserved day off. We sleep in, and then I ramble down to the headquarters of the United Church of Christ, which is next door to our hotel. I've been asked to take part in a conversation about the arts, jazz, and church. We're in the Amistad Chapel, a great space where the band played a few years ago.

To my delight, Bob Chase drops by. Bob is a denominational staff leader for the UCC and a creative genius. He and Bill Pindar were the guys who first invited me to make some jazz for the wider church. They think big: it was the 1989 Bicentennial of the Presbyterian Church, and we collaborated on a huge worship service in downtown Philadelphia, right across the street from the Liberty Bell. For obvious reasons, I call him "Long Tall."

My partners in the arts conversation are Cliff Aerie and Dr. Chris Bakriges, founding members of the Oikos Ensemble. Cliff has a great job title with the UCC: he is their official "Minister of Creativity."

We chat a bit, play a little music, and then go for a long cup of coffee. Later on, I hook up again with the quartet, and we have a wonderful dinner in an Irish pub. It's been a relaxing and energizing day.

Today is Tuesday, and we'll head off to Erie. Our concert tonight will be at the Wayside Presbyterian Church, a friendly place that has welcomed our music in the past. It's close to some of my family, and I'm looking forward to seeing them.

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