The Gospel, according to jazz

Popular jazz vespers series a monthly tradition at St. Philips

Tony Genge

Tony Genge

What started as a one-off show last October has turned into an Oak Bay musical tradition.

Jazz vespers has become a monthly staple at St. Philip Anglican Church. The unique services take traditional hymns from the church’s songbook and give them a jazz flavour with the help of a rotating cast of accomplished musicians.

“When people come once, they say ‘that was fun and I’m going to bring my friends next time,’” said Bob Watts, who will play drums on Sunday (June 26) and is one of the primary organizers of the program. “One person becomes two, and two become five and it’s kept on growing.”

Music and religion have gone hand in hand for a very long time. But re-imagining the hymns as jazz tunes serves two purposes; it gives listeners a fresh take on some familiar songs and it gets more people interested in jazz as a musical genre – plus they make sure to keep it accessible.

“We don’t go on doing solos for half an hour,” Watts said. “It’s short and sweet.”

In fact, the vespers services last only an hour in total. Like other church services, there are readings and some form of sermon, but instead of the congregation singing hymns, they sit back and listen while the jazz trio plays.

“What we’re not doing is bringing them into a church and whacking them with all sorts of religious stuff,” said Watts.

This month’s trio features Watts on drums, Tony Genge on piano and Scott White on acoustic bass. Both Watts and Genge have homes in Oak Bay, while White, who lives in Berlin, is in town visiting family.

Watts said the growth of the event is due in large part to a growing list of musicians who want to become a part of it.

“Because I know lots of Victoria musicians, they’re invited down. They say ‘this is great fun, put me on the list for next time.’” That list is now booked solid with musicians right up until the end of this year.

“It’s like two different worlds coming together, and I find that very interesting,” said Genge, who spends his summers in Oak Bay, but teaches in the music department at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S. the rest of the year.

Watts guarantees that fans at June’s show will hear something they’ve never heard before.

“The neat thing about this one in particular is we’ll show up and the three of us have never actually played together,” he said. “Jazz is a musical conversation, so Tony will start up and the others will join in.”

This month’s edition of jazz vespers happens at 7:30 p.m. at St. Philip Anglican Church, 2928 Eastdowne Rd. Admission is by donation.

editor@oakbaynews.com