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Wynton Marsalis brings Harlem gospel to Charlotte

By Michael J. Solender
qcitymetro.com

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  • ‘Abyssinian: A Gospel Celebration Tour’

    Tuesday, Oct. 8, 7:30 p.m., Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, 3400 Beatties Ford Road.

    Details: $20-$50. www.carolinatix.org.



Wynton Marsalis’ “Abyssinian Mass” raises “joyful noise” in reflecting African-American worship – an uplifting celebration and landmark collaboration of jazz, gospel, instrumentation and vocals.

Marsalis, the artistic and managing director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, brings the work to Friendship Missionary Baptist Church on Tuesday.

The piece was written by Marsalis in 2008 in recognition of the 200th anniversary of Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, one the oldest African-American churches in the country and the first in New York.

With the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and the 70-person Chorale Le Chateau, under the direction of Damien Sneed, Marsalis is taking his music on the road with “Abyssinian: A Gospel Celebration Tour” during October.

The concert is made possible through support of the Steward Family Foundation and Ray and Barbara Dalio. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s support included 1,000 tickets to individuals, including Project LIFT students and families.

Q. Why are you bringing “”Abyssinian Mass” out for tour now?

A. We thought it would be a good time. When I write these pieces, they are not really topical. Any time is a good time for the music to come out. I put a lot of research into the music and these works speak across times.

They are designed to speak to issues that are not topical. With a Mass, it is always the same issue – come together, speak together and stay together. Everyone has a place in the house of God. That is the main theme of the sermon, but the form of the piece itself takes you through many of the spiritual conditions of American music, Anglo- and Afro-American church music.

Q. What is it about Gospel that cuts across faith lines and appeals even to a secular audience?

A. With my kind of spirituality, I am not proselytizing. I don’t try and be topical. I try and provide a core spiritual experience. I am a fan of scripture. I grew up with the Bible. It is a tremendous guide with spiritual insights. I tend to deal with the insights as insights and not as a way to convince somebody that my beliefs should be their beliefs. I also view the music as music; the music is so much richer in church.

Q. You wrote “Abyssinian Mass” in 2008. How has it blossomed and matured?

A. The choir has a greater familiarity with it. They have a greater degree of freedom with the piece now. They are better able to articulate all the different emotions and different movements that are in the piece and give it treatment from straight-up gospel jump to almost like Bach music.

Q. How did you decide to come to Charlotte?

A. Anthony Foxx (former Charlotte mayor, current U.S. secretary of transportation) is a very good friend of mine. I love Charlotte; I love playing there. I am looking forward to being there, and we are coming with a tremendous amount of warmth and communal feeling.

Q. What is the one thing you hope audiences will walk away with?

A: I hope people will be uplifted and nourished. The band is playing on an extremely high level. We feel that these tours are historic because it is unusual to have jazz bands play in churches. … We are looking forward to bringing a great deal of feeling and coming to embrace people with our music.

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