Just as the clock strikes six on Thursday evening, people gather in the cathedral-like Gordon Chapel at Old South Church in Copley Square—with its soaring arches, stone walls and stained glass—for prayers and music. The worship service included prayers and a sermon led by Reverend Anthony Livolsi, the church’s associate minister, along with gospel songs and jazz featuring the music of saxophonist Willie Sordillo and his group Trio.
The jazz service requires a strong level of community participation, the music a mix of traditional gospel, hymns and improvised jazz.
The Old South Church jazz worship service was founded by Reverend Nancy Taylor, the church’s senior minister, and Sordillo, who helped come up with the idea of a jazz service and worked with two ministry interns while creating the program. He ran it for the first couple of years before the church took over with Livolsi now supervising the overall service.
Three weeks ago, Sordillo delivered New Orleans flavor to the service while celebrating Fat Tuesday and playing in an expanded trio consisting of Lennie Peterson, Bob Johnson, Mike Milnarik, Chris Barkiges and Zoe Krohone. Over the sixty minute service, the ensemble played eight compositions, ranging from Miles Davis to Duke Ellington.
The Sordillo Trio performed a prelude based on songs by two American jazz giants, two hymns, a prayer response, some parade music and ended with an offering confession. The service started with two smooth moving jazz interpretations created by the musical harmonies of the horns: Sordillo on the alto sax, Peterson on the trombone and Milnarik on the tuba. With Barkiges on piano and Johnson on drums, they performed an original composition based off Davis’s “Fredie the Freeloader” called “Pachanga On Basin Street” and later in Ellington’s “Don’t Get Down on Your Knees.”
The ensemble performed two traditional African-American hymns, “Just A Closer Walk With Thee” and “Glory Glory Hallelujah” by Arthur Reynolds incorporating the horns, percussion and piano with Krohone singing and leading the congregation. In between each hymn Krohone led a prayer response with the musicians.
After the hymns the ensemble led a loud march of patrons onto Beacon Street then back into the chapel with the African-American gospel song “When the Saints Come Marching In” which Louis Armstrong recorded in the late 1930 ‘s. The ensemble set a communal tone
for church members and patrons to share with Copley Square.
The jazz service ended with two instrumental compositions; an African-American gospel song “Is There Anybody Here Loves My Jesus” and composer Spencer William ‘s “Basin Street Blues.”