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Jazz merges with worship music at Milligan concert

Johnson City Press 

There’s a definite worshipservice theme to Monday’s Milligan College Jazz Ensemble spring concert, but director Rick Simerly is quick to point out it’s still a true jazz concert.

The performance, “The Baecker Jazz Worship Service,” was written by composer John Cooper, an associate professor of music at Western Illinois and a top-level trumpeter who will be in attendance and will direct some of the movements and talk to the audience about the piece.

Vocalist Loretta Bowers will join the 22-piece jazz ensemble for some numbers, while legendary pianist and bandleader Charles Goodwin will open the evening with his trio, playing numbers from his recent release, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” a collection of church hymns.

“The whole evening is sacred music, but it doesn’t sound like that at all,” Simerly said. “ There’s a 5/4 movement, an avant-garde movement, a second-line New Orleans street beat movement, some are quite lengthy, there’s a really swinging version of ‘This Little Light of Mine’ — you’d never know it’s all sacred music.

“I want people to feel free to applaud. I want it to be loose, a jazz concert atmosphere, and even though we’re opening up with hymns, Charlie’s portion will also be loose and open.”

The free concert begins at 7:30 p.m. in Seeger Memorial Chapel. Simerly, an associate professor of music at Milligan, directs the ensemble, which comprises both Milligan students and community members.

Cooper was commissioned to write “The Baecker Jazz Worship Service” for Garth and Terry Baecker in 2007 and it was recorded in Chicago by The John Cooper Orchestra, which included Simerly on trombone. It was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

Simerly liked the music and, once he heard the recorded version, he started thinking about his Milligan ensemble performing it.

“I thought this music would be a great fit for Milligan College,” he said, citing Duke Ellington as an influence on the worship theme. “Ellington did three sacred concerts and I think John sort of got the idea from that. Ellington’s sacred suites are famous.”

Cooper was excited about the idea of Milligan performing his music so he expressed interest in attending. Simerly said. Then the Baeckers, who were already planning to be in the Southeast at the time, decided they wanted to attend, as well.

Featured soloists for The Milligan Jazz Ensemble, will be Mark Thie, piano; Dick Davis and Kyle Bothof, saxophone; Matt Hall, trombone; Sloan Hill, Steven Cooper, Jason Bailey and Shane Ladd, trumpet; Jake Merrick, bass; and Eddie Dalton, drums.

Bowers, part of the Bowers Family Singers, is a veteran performer who became a member of the National One Company, the traveling production of the Broadway hit “Ain’t Misbehavin.” She had a leading role in the recent original Milligan musical “The Gospel According to Jazz” and leads her own group, Retta B and the Blessed Hammond Trio.

Simerly called the concert “a unique event. We want to showcase the music and have everyone go away with a good feeling. All the music is sacred, and this just shows that good music comes in all shapes and sizes.”

For more information, call 461-8723 or e-mail music@milligan.edu.

Johnson City Press Article


MILLIGAN UNIVERSITY is a Christian liberal arts university in Northeast Tennessee whose vision is to change lives and shape culture through a commitment to servant leadership. The university offers more than 100 majors, minors, pre-professional degrees and concentrations in a variety of fields, along with graduate and adult degree completion programs.  To learn more about Milligan University, visit www.milligan.edu or call 800-262-8337.

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