– Gospel and jazz fans alike came out to see “Abyssinian: A Gospel Celebration” on October 18 at 8 p.m. in the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.PHOTO: Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center at University of Missouri-St. Louis. Photo by Cate Marquis for The Current 2012 (c)
By Albert Nall, Staff Writer for The Current
Gospel and jazz fans alike came out to see “Abyssinian: A Gospel Celebration” on October 18 at 8 p.m. in the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.
Wynton Marsalis appeared with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, supplemented by a 70-voice gospel choir, Chorale Le Chateau, conducted by Damien Sneed. The event was presented by Jazz St. Louis which earmarks funding for a roster of jazz artists in 18 cities. The objective of the night was to raise funds to enrich jazz studies at schools and colleges.
Marsalis has held numerous titles which include trumpeter, composer, teacher, and music educator. As the Artistic Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City, Marsalis has been awarded nine Grammys for both jazz and classical music. One of his recordings was the first of the genre to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music.
“Abyssinian Mass” was originally performed in New York in 2008 at the Harlem church that inspired the piece. The work commemorates the 200th anniversary of the Abyssinian Baptist Church on 138th Street in Harlem.
An hour before the concert, a large line formed at the ticket booth, to the lively sounds of the percussion and wind sections warming up. Copies of “The Lord’s Prayer” were distributed to patrons entering the auditorium, an indication of what one would expect from the gospel and jazz performance.
Marsalis’ performance reflected an African American religious experience that has remained committed to a theme of universal humanism while placing an emphasis on social protest and justice through nonviolent means. Marsalis fused theses themes in his 2008 work “Abyssinian Mass.” This intricate musical piece crosses various components of jazz history with an emphasis on spirituals.
The evening started out slowly with music from the choir, along with a laid-back introduction from the trombone and bass. Eventually, this was joined by great clapping and stomping from the choir, whose bright red robes with white trim were appropriate to spirit of the St. Louis Cardinals’ baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers that was taking place at the time.
“The Lord’s Prayer” was performed with a word-for-word breakdown. The performance included an emphasis on various parts of the composition. The evening really begun with a big band performance, along with more snapping and clapping from the choir.
The problem was that, despite a packed house, it appeared the audience may have been distracted by the Cardinals’ game. Several tenors and sopranos featured during the performance tried to galvanize the apparently lackluster audience. A sassy blues vocalist garnered some response from various sections of the crowd, but the overall reaction was subdued and restrained.
At the end of the performance however, Marsalis would not be shown up by the Cardinals playoff game. Marsalis enthralled an amazed audience with his charisma alone.
At the end of the show, a cake was rolled onto stage for the musician’s 52nd birthday. A Dodger’s fan from the trumpet ensemble then presented him with a Redbird jersey to commemorate the Cardinals’ advance to the World Series.
© The Current 2013