By Bernie Petit
A jazz-based take on a Harlem gospel tradition is coming to Charlotte.
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has joined with the Arts & Science Council (ASC) and Blumenthal Performing Arts to present “Abyssinian: A Gospel Celebration,” performed by the world-renowned Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis and the 70-member gospel choir Chorale Le Chateau, at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 8, at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church.
The musicians will traverse jazz history from spirituals to hard-bop and raise a joyful noise while playing a sound that echoes the history of an influential New York church.
It all goes back to 1808, when a group of Africans in America and Ethiopian sea merchants founded Abyssinian Baptist, which derives its name from the ancient name of the nation from which the Ethiopian merchants had come – Abyssinia.
The church played a major role in cultivating the gospel music scene throughout the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s, and grew to become the largest Protestant church in the country in 1937 with more than 10,000 members, according to The New York Daily News.
To celebrate its bicentennial in 2008, the church – which remains at the forefront of the gospel tradition – commissioned Marsalis to create the celebration piece. The project fit with work the famed trumpeter started 16 years earlier, when he debuted “In This House, On This Morning” and began his creative exploration of how to integrate sacred African-American church service with secular expression.
The result, “Abyssinian: A Gospel Celebration,” features Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra – 15 of today’s
finest jazz soloists and ensemble players – playing modernist variants of New Orleans dirges and struts along with the Duke Ellington big-band legacies of brassy interplay and harmonized ballads. Conductor Damien Sneed leads Chorale Le Chateau through the rousing compilation of shouts, chants and jubilant expressions prominent in the piece.
Tickets to the Oct. 8 performance are $20 for general admission and $50 for VIP seating. To ensure wide access to this cultural experience, the Knight Foundation will make 1,000 tickets available free of charge to ASC’s community partners, including Crisis Assistance Ministries, Big Brothers/Big Sisters and the Mayor’s Mentoring Alliance, among others. Friendship Missionary Baptist Church is at 3400 Beatties Ford Road, Charlotte. For tickets, click here or call 704-372-1000.
The six teachers named winners of the ASC Cato Excellence in Teaching Awards will be recognized at the event. The annual awards, made possible through an endowment gift made to ASC from The Cato Corporation, recognize teachers who have distinguish themselves in teaching art, science or history, or who demonstrate creative infusion of arts, science or history into the core curriculum.