The 11th Jazz Service at First and Calvary Presbyterian Church, 800 E. Cherry at Hammons Parkway, will take place in the church sanctuary on Sunday June 25th at 11:00am, functioning as the regular worship service for this Sunday. That’s not only a new date for this annual service, as it usually takes place in February around Mardi Gras, but also a location within the church. Howerver, the musicians remain the same—Dave Gravatt and the Creole Jazz Band with Gary Ellison playing piano and telling the stories of the great gospel songs in lieu of a sermon.
In previous years the service has been conducted in other areas of the church, but this year it’s headlining the sanctuary. “We like to think we’ve finally graduated to the ‘main room’—we’ve been in the (First and Calvary) gym for ten years. And I am thrilled, because for the first time I have a real piano, not an electronic keyboard,” says Gary Ellison, President of local ad agency Gary Ellison Productions, and Missouri’s “Official Ragtime Piano Player,” an honor bestowed on him by the Missouri State Senate, since 1973. “We’ve researched the history of a lot of these great and grand gospel/jazz tunes—who wrote them and what motivated them to write. So I tell the story of the tune, then we do the tune,” says Ellison.
Many of the most popular songs from the first ten years of the Jazz Service are included in this program—“some of the old standards that you kinda have to do,” says Ellison. A couple of popular gospel tunes new to the Jazz Service, written by Stuart Hamblen, will be added to the program this year. Hamblen was one of the original “singing cowboys” on radio in the 1920s, and went on to become an actor and songwriter, most famous for the pop/gospel classic “This Old House.” As Gary Ellison relates the story, “Hamblen was up in the high Sierra Nevadas on a hunting trip with an actor friend of his, and they came across this little cabin. There was an emaciated dog sitting by the front door, and there was no smoke coming out of the chimney—it was snowing. And they went in and found the old man that had lived there had passed away. He was lying in the back room. And that’s what inspired Stuart Hamblen to write ‘This Old House.’” This is exactly the sort of background and storytelling that you can expect to hear from Ellison at First and Calvary’s Jazz Service.
Also, there will be a tribute to New Orleans clarinetist Pete Fountain, who passed away last summer. Jerry Hoover, Missouri State University’s long-time (and recently retired) director of bands, will be rejoining the Creole Jazz Band, coming down from his home in St. Louis just for this service. Jerry’s clarinet solo of Pete Fountain’s famous arrangement of “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” will highlight the tribute. Fountain, who is credited with bringing New Orleans-style jazz to a national audience through frequent appearances on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show” and the “Lawrence Welk Show,” died in August 2016 at age 86.
For information call the church at 862-5068. The Jazz Service is free and open to the public.