Mallory Pellegrino came for the jazz. She stayed for the people.
Both were very much in evidence Palm Sunday morning as the musicians of the St. Paul and St. James (Episcopal Church) Jazz Band led nearly 100 celebrants in a rousing New Orleans-style second line parade to mark the beginning of the holiest week of the Christian calendar.
Raising a contemporary joyful jazz ruckus is in keeping with Jesus’s message as he entered Jerusalem two millennia ago, said the church’s leader, Rev. Alex Dyer. “Jesus made some noise as he entered Jerusalem. If it were on Twitter, he’d be trending.”
Four years ago Dyer inaugurated a jazz service to the congregation so that the music, which draws from a wide range of sources, could better reflect the diverse congregation. (Click here to revisit the 2012 event.)
All that was on display Sunday as Paris Mann showed how to praise the Lord with tapping feet on the steps in front of the church. Music director Nick Weiser fueled up his highly portable Hohner Fire melodica, and the musicians followed the cross as the parade was launched.
The parishioners, or the second line, bearing palm branches, babies, and parasols, followed the musicians across Chapel Street, then down Olive. They took a right rattling the windows (well, just a little) of the brownstones on sedate Court Street, and then returned for the Sunday morning service proper.
Paris Mann tapped his way down the aisle and then on the dais as the processioners entered the church singing the hymn, “Ride On, King Jesus, No One Can Hinder Me.”
The serious business of the compressed recounting of Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem, his arrest, and crucifixion, followed.
It was done with an artistic flair, with music and dance now augmented by a dramatic narration of the story according to the Gospel of Matthew, including one worshiper in the role of Jesus wearing a crown of brambles.
Dyer asked the congregants to turn to each other and to say, “I’m not in charge,” one of the inferences of the Palm Sunday story where the crowd standing before Pontius Pilate calls for the freeing of Barabbas and the execution of Jesus.
Had they made a different call, what might have been the fate of the young rabbi Jesus, and the future of his movement?
Dyer joked that some husbands turning to wives or wives turning to husbands might find the interchange—“I’m not in charge”— amusing. But in life, everyone has to make a change to reflect that the individual is not in charge, he sermonized; God is in charge.
The service mixed the down to earth and the mundane with the mystical and heart-wrenching—what Dyer called the “emotional roller coaster” of the service and of holy week.
Music was the medium making the mix work.
The musicians of the jazz band include director Nick Weiser; alto sax players Will Cleary and John Havens; trumpeter Dave Chisholm; trombonist Phil Giampietro; tuba player Art Hovey; drummers Tido Holtkamp and Matt Dwonszyk; and vocalists Aleta Staton and Rudy Babouder.