Q&A: 9th annual ‘Hymns & Spirituals’ show presented at CSU

by Adam Parker, The Post and Courier
Posted: Sunday, January 13, 2013 12:01 a.m.

The nice thing about jazz is you can’t really pin it down. The genre’s range is large, and because jazz is a constantly transformative and expressive kind of music, it is especially good at accommodating a variety of styles.

For nine years, sax player Mark Sterbank has been organizing a special jazz set called “Hymns & Spirituals,” which is presented at an annual concert hosted by Charleston Southern University, where he teaches.

His band, which features Quentin Baxter on drums, Charlton Singleton on trumpet, Fred Wesley on trombone, Tommy Gill on piano, and Herman Burney Jr. on bass, also sometimes takes the show downtown, on the road or into the recording studio.
“Hymns & Spirituals” is about much more than adding improvisory swing and kick to tradition tunes; it’s a meaningful experience for players and listeners alike.
In anticipation of today’s 3 p.m. concert, The Post and Courier asks Sterbank about his background, inspiration and musical journey.

Q: How did you get into music-making in the first place? Did you start as a kid? And were reeds always your main thing?
A: I started the saxophone at age 9 after several frustrating early years of piano lessons. My parents had allowed me to quit piano if I took up another instrument.
My uncle had been a saxophonist in high school and had the instruments, so I chose the saxophone. Funny thing was, I confused the image of an accordion with the word saxophone as another uncle had shown me an accordion that I thought was pretty cool.
When the saxophone arrived, I said, “Oh, OK, I’ll play this.” I’ve played saxophone ever since and started flute and clarinet in high school.

Q: You teach at Charleston Southern — saxophone lessons? Any other classes? What do you like best about teaching?
A: At CSU I teach jazz band, jazz combo, saxophone studio, woodwind techniques, jazz and commercial music theory, jazz improvisation and arranging for worship leaders.
I have also previously taught a performance class and music appreciation. What I like best about teaching is being able to help students discover information that changes their musical paradigm.
Whether through introducing them to new music or artists or techniques and practices, it is the most gratifying to make a positive difference in someone’s learning experience.

Q: Your Christian faith is an important part of your life, right? What’s the connection between that and your musical experiences, generally speaking?
A: Yes, my faith is definitely a very important part of my life. The connection between my faith and my musical experiences is my purpose in life. I’m able to realize the calling to help others, to be a blessing, to share the love of Christ and to give glory to the Lord through the pursuit of musical excellence.

Q: What first sparked the idea for the “Hymns & Spirituals” program, and how has it unfolded during these last nine years? Is it a CSU event, or just hosted there?
A: CSU’s Horton School of Music has been the host for the program since its beginning in 2005. At that time, I was an artist in residence and this was a performance project that integrated my faith and vocation.
Over the last nine years, it has become more than just a project as we’ve presented “Hymns & Spirituals” 16 or 17 times playing also at churches, the JAC (Jazz Artists of Charleston) and Piccolo Spoleto Jazz Series and even for the Toni Morrison convention. We’ve recorded two CDs and plan to pursue performance opportunities in other cities in addition to our annual concert.

Q: I’ve noticed that playing this set generates a somewhat unique vibe on stage and in the audience. The music is familiar, but presented in a wonderfully soulful and swinging way that excites listeners. Tell me about the ensemble performing experience and the way these particular tunes affect the band.
A: As you say, there is a unique exhilaration when we play that seems to transcend just the chemistry between the musicians. There is a wonderful excitement that occurs that defies explanation. It’s really a blessing to everybody.

Q: Finally, you have been spending a lot of time playing at the recently opened jazz listening room, The Mezz, and in the Charleston Jazz Orchestra. In both the small-ensemble and big band formats, your playing seems to have matured. You are adventurous in your solos. And you are writing more arrangements and original tunes. Can you summarize your career trajectory? Where have you come from, and where do you think you are going?
A: I’ve come from a diverse music experience including classical, jazz, Motown, R&B, Broadway-style shows, gospel, and Christian music.
Through the years, I’ve strived for the image my teacher held up of the journeyman musician, being ready for whatever the job calls for. Now, my career is becoming more focused as I concentrate more of my energy on my own compositions and playing.
I have the wonderful opportunity to explore and reach new levels of expression at the Mezz and with CJO.
Currently, I am planning an album of original music to be completed in the next year and hope to present and perform as much as possible.

‘Hymns & Spirituals’ hitting its stride

Special to The Post and Courier

Saxophonist Mark Sterbank has grown his concept of sacred jazz music into a popular brand step by step over the past six years, inspiring and entertaining concertgoers with his Hymns & Spirituals.
That’s the banner under which the Mark Sterbank Jazz Group performs modern jazz interpretations of church evergreens.
Although he was referring to secular music when he coined the phrase, Louis Armstrong would have called what Sterbank’s band plays, “some of them good ol’ good ones.”
The ensemble performs again Jan. 16 at 3 p.m. in the Lightsey Chapel Auditorium at Charleston Southern University. It’s billed as the 7th Annual Hymns & Spirituals Concert.
I saw the very first one and several of them since. It’s a blast. In fact, they just keep getting better.
One of the reasons is that the personnel, who had played together in other configurations, has remained the same, coalescing in musical thought, word and deed.
Sterbank’s bandmates are Fred Wesley, trombone; Charlton Singleton, trumpet; Tommy Gill, piano; Herman Burney Jr., bass; and Quentin Baxter, drums.
Some of the program planned for the upcoming concert has been played before and are back by popular demand. Others, such as “We Shall Overcome,” are new renditions.
The band is set to perform “This Little Light of Mine,” “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” “Amazing Grace,” “I Shall Not Be Moved,” “Let Us Break Bread,” “Joshua Fit De Battle” and “Battle Hymn of the Republic” among others.
Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 seniors and students and free for CSU students and children 12 and under. Contact the CSU music department at 863-7966.
The experience of listening to this band is so transcendent, it even works outside the sanctuary. It played to a sold-out house at McCrady’s last spring for its turn as Jazz Artists of Charleston’s annual Holy City Homecomin’ event. It has performed at East Cooper Baptist Church and is getting requests to play regionally.
The house rocked as it would in a concert hall or a church. The energy created overrode any perceived boundaries imposed by a venue.
It’s the best of both Saturday night and Sunday morning.
Every time I’ve heard the band, folks leave feeling better, on many levels, than when they came in. You get the best of top-quality art and a nonsectarian religious experience, all rolled into one.
A feeling that shines through, too, is the resonance that comes from how the band members live their lives and practice their craft. Believers all, they’re connected to a presence larger than them individually and as a group.
What you hear is a result of their being in touch with that force, one in which they have a deep and abiding faith that ties them to what they believe is the source of all beauty.
There are collegial bonds that tie these guys together, too. Not only are they all hugely talented, they respect themselves and each other professionally. And whatever their undertaking, they put out the best product they can.
Some time after the concert, they’re going into the studio to make another record. They did a terrific one, “Hymns & Spirituals,” last year. It’s available at CDBaby.com, DigStation, and iTunes. With another year under their belt, this one should be even better.
The band is just the right size for what Sterbank is trying to do. You get a full, lush sound with five players, and at the same time, it’s not so many people that they get in each other’s way. Everyone’s artistic abilities have room to come through. And that is reinforced by how well they know each other musically from the experience of playing together for more than 10 years.
The ensemble’s sound seems to float like a cloud. You end up enveloped by their sound, not run over or knocked down by it. It takes you over. And that’s OK. It’s warm and welcoming.
The way I know Sterbank, this project and its concept come out of his personality. He and his wife, Leah, are two of the nicest, most hip, positive people you’ll ever want to meet.
Just like this band.
He told me New Year’s Eve a biblical guiding principle for his project is taken from Ephesians 5:19,20: “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The programmatic inspiration for this year’s concert comes from the band having been invited to play Jan. 19 at 11 a.m. at CSU as part of a tribute to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., an ardent jazz fan who gave an address at the 1964 Berlin Jazz Festival.
He closed it with, “For in the particular struggle of the Negro in America there is something akin to the universal struggle of modern man. Everybody has the blues. Everybody longs for meaning. Everybody needs to love and be loved. Everybody needs to clap hands and be happy. Everybody longs for faith. In music, especially this broad category called jazz, there is a stepping stone towards all of these.”
CSU made a fine choice asking Sterbank to bring his band. Not knowing of King’s speech, here’s what he told me that Friday of his take on jazz, spirituality and human equality:
” ‘Hymns & Spirituals’ is relevant because the tradition of jazz and hymns and spirituals both reach out across cultural divisions and appeal to people from many cultures. There is a connection that is made with people through both traditions.
“I feel that the combining the two unites the joy, exuberance and beauty of jazz music with the hope, redemption and love found in hymns and spirituals. It resonates across age divisions as well. I’ve seen all ages at our events. It is an honor to present this program again this year and continue the vision of uniting my passion and faith through music.”

Holy City Homecomin’ review


The Post and Courier

What fortune.

A sold out early show at McCrady’s, part of the Piccolo Spoleto Festival’s jazz series, showcased settings of spirituals and hymns, performed by the Mark Sterbank Jazz Group.

For the “Holy City Homecomin’,” God must have been in the room.

Sterbank’s tenor saxophone ostensibly led the ensemble, but it was clearly an equal opportunity gig that featured excellent playing by trumpeter Charlton Singleton, Tommy Gill on piano, Fred Wesley on trombone, Herman Burney Jr. on bass and Quentin Baxter on drums.

The tunes included “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho,” “Deep River,” “Wade in the Water,” “Ride on in Jesus,” and an elegant original tune by Wesley called “For the Elders,” which paid tribute to the great trombonists of yore.

The gig ended with a romping version of “I’ll Fly Away.”

Evident was the musicians’ respect for the music. These are tunes they don’t play every day, and they imbued them with love. And the love made the horns sing, the bass beat like a heart, the piano radiate joy and the drums thrum with the pulse of life itself.

Though the tunes were sacred, they lent themselves to the jazz medium perfectly, and the effect was a thrilling, visceral, toe-tapping romp, inspired and soul-nourishing.

It’s worth noting that Wesley was once an integral member of the James Brown band, a funkster to the core; yet his performance and arrangements were so compelling Tuesday night that one can’t help believing he’s first and foremost a jazzman.

Burney, who now lives in Washington, D.C., was a prominent bass player in Charleston during the 1980s and has since returned occasionally to play with Baxter and other local performers.

The “Holy City Homecomin’” gig proved once again that the Holy City is home to a group of world class musicians. You can hear them at McCrady’s through June 11, and beyond.


Sterbank offers 6th ‘Hymns & Spirituals’

Special to The Post and Courier

I was interviewing Charleston jazz trumpeter Joey Morant once and he brought up something we both believe in very strongly.
It was in a ballroom at the Sheraton Hotel on Sixth Avenue in New York City. He had just sat in with the Franklin Street Five, a Jenkins Orphanage tribute band I created the year before for a Charleston Jazz Initiative event.
The Charleston Jazz Initiative, a research project of which I’m a principal, had been invited to present Charleston’s jazz history and legacy to the 2006 annual conference of the International Association of Jazz Education.
So we took a band to show them how we do it in Charleston.
Joey, a highly acclaimed player now based in the Big Apple, sat in with the band, knocking everybody’s socks off.
After the dust settled, CJI videographer Tony Bell set up an interview space and we sat down to talk.
The point Joey made was that jazz has a spiritual side that cannot be forgotten. The rhythm section’s Gullah beats and Joey’s searing, heart-felt horn lines were indeed transcendental, in tune with spiritual energy.
His hometown is steeped in the Judeo-Christian ethic so he’s no stranger to church.
There was some “church” in that ballroom that January day.
And there’s going to be plenty of it at 3 p.m. Jan. 17 at the Lightsey Chapel on the campus of Charleston Southern University. That’s when tenor saxophonist Mark Sterbank, CSU assistant professor of jazz studies and instrumental area coordinator, will bring to the stage the sixth annual edition of his Hymns and Spirituals. The concert is a special project of the Mark Sterbank Jazz Group.
Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for students and seniors, CSU students free with valid ID.
In 2004, Mark took the Lowcountry by storm with the inaugural H&S, performing modern jazz interpretations of sacred music. The band is still the same: Fred Wesley on trombone, Charlton Singleton trumpet, Tommy Gill piano, Herman Burney Jr. bass , Quentin Baxter on drums and Mark.
Mark said this year’s program will be a best-of from the first five years of concerts.
The repertoire is: “Wade in the Water,” “Joshua Fit the Battle,” “Let Us Break Bread,” “Ain’t That Good News,” “Deep River,” “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “Ride On, King Jesus,” “‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus,” “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” “Victory in Jesus,” “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” “Alleluia, Sing to Jesus,” “Marching to Zion,” “Amazing Grace” and “Kumbaya.”
H&S has become so popular, Mark has occasionally taken it outside Lightsey for special performances.
In the 1990’s, this band played with each other in all kinds of secular settings, emerging as one of the best straight ahead groups around.
The individual skill sets of each player bring much to the table, but their feel for each other is the real key to their swinging success.
Mark describes it as the band being united by the elements of inspiration and improvisation.
I’ve listened to them for about 15 years now and he’s right.
They inspire each other and they can all improvise.
The key here, though, is that they all believe in a higher power.
They’re in touch with each other, alright, but they’re also plugged into who they believe is the source of all things.
Add to this connection the individual freedom that comes from their trust in each other and you have fireworks.
Knowing them like I do, it’s a great joy to express themselves in this special way, giving thanks and praise and letting us, the audience, in on their ecstasy.
You’re going to dig this. These guys really make a joyful noise unto the Lord.
Mark was telling me the other day he’s trying to schedule things in such a way that the band can record this year. Good for us if they do.
There’s a growing body of recorded jazz work here and H&S would be a marvelous addition to that canon.
The band members look forward to this gig. Mark is a great band leader. There’s no personal or professional stress. Money’s not a big deal. There’s mutual respect, no prima donnas.
They must enjoy doing this. They’re all busy with their own bands and projects. Fred, of the James Brown Band fame, lives in Manning and works around the world. Herman, Charleston’s best bass player from Wilmington, N.C., lives in Washington, D.C., also traveling and playing the world.
But they all make H&S each year. It’s an institution now.
Just like Mark.
He’s quiet, but strong. Smart, but laid back. Efficient, but thorough.
And he can play the saxophone, all of them.
Like all the great players, Mark plays the next note, works the next gig and leads the next band as if it would be his last time doing such.
He’s an optimist. He has a deep and abiding faith that has him climbing the mountains of his profession and his life with the confidence that only a relationship with a higher power can bring.
Mark’s spirit is generous. And, like his band, his greatest joy is sharing his craft.

Sacred music begins year: Jazz ensemble plans fifth edition of emerging tradition

Special to The Post and Courier

Sometimes beliefs, values and traditions are born of sheer constancy and consistency. Do something well and repeat it and pretty soon you’ve started a pattern of customs.
A good case can be made for that being what’s going on with Mark Sterbank’s Hymns & Spirituals annual concerts. On Jan. 18, the Mark Sterbank Jazz Group featuring Fred Wesley will mount its fifth edition of what has emerged as a sacred music rite of the beginning of the year.
The ensemble plays original arrangements of evergreen, inspirational hymns and spirituals.
The group includes Sterbank, pianist Tommy Gill, trombonist Fred Wesley, drummer Quentin Baxter, trumpeter Charlton Singleton and bassist Herman Burney Jr.
Sterbank is assistant professor of jazz studies and saxophone instructor at Charleston Southern University. He received his Bachelor of Music degree from the Eastman School of Music and a master of music degree from the University of New Orleans, where he also studied with pianist Ellis Marsalis under a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts.
“The origin of this idea of jazz hymns and spirituals for me goes back to when I was playing in the band at Times Square Church in New York City back in the mid-’90s,” Sterbank said. “We had almost a full big band (four saxes, three trumpets, two trombones, tuba, guitar, piano, bass, drums), and I, along with others, wrote jazz arrangements for the group to play during the offering part of the service.
“Then, after coming to Charleston, I also played with Herman Burney on a concert featuring jazz hymns and spirituals that he called Musicful Worship. Then, in 2005, I wanted to begin concertizing at CSU yearly, so we began this current series of concerts.”
Some of the traditional and contemporary songs featured in past concerts are “It is Well With My Soul,” “Oh, Happy Day,” “Since I Laid My Burdens Down,” “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” “Lord I Want to be a Christian,” “In the Garden,” “Wade in the Water” and “Speak to My Heart.”
Before last year’s concert, Sterbank said one of the reasons the band works together so well is the fact that the members all value what they believe in and what they do for a living. The bond is strong and has a sense of purpose.
“It’s about combining faith and vocation,” Sterbank said for a Post and Courier story last year, “and just using the vehicle of jazz for the expression of the music that’s really American traditional music, in a sense.”
The concert will be held at 3 p.m. Jan. 18 in CSU’s Lightsey Chapel Auditorium. Tickets are $5 at the door for adults and free to students with a valid ID.

Hymns & Spirituals: Sacred music to get jazz interpretations

The Post and Courier
Mark Sterbank believes there’s a renewed interest in things jazz and spiritual.
The Charleston Southern University instrumental artist-in-residence bases this, in part, on the fact that he and his colleagues are set to put on their fourth consecutive edition of Hymns & Spirituals, a concert of jazz interpretations of sacred music.
As he mused on the sacred jazz scene in a recent interview, Sterbank, a veteran player, observed that there is an upswing in opportunities in the Lowcountry to hear that kind of music. “Jazz vespers is something that’s returning to popularity,” he said. “There’s the vespers at Circular (Congregational Church), and we played one (vespers) during Piccolo (Spoleto Festival) last year.” That program was held at First Baptist Church.
Calvary Episcopal Church offered a jazz vespers Sept. 30. It was part of its 160th anniversary that began Feb. 4 with a jazz Mass.
Jazz vespers is an afternoon or evening informal service built around Scripture and jazz music.
East Cooper Baptist Church has hosted sacred swing music. After Sterbank’s group made a joyful noise unto the Lord at East Cooper Baptist at Thanksgiving 2006, Mickey Bakst, general manager of Charleston Grill and a well-traveled jazz fan, remarked that it was like nothing he had ever seen or heard.
Circular’s service is long-standing and is scheduled regularly for the second Sunday of the month at 6 p.m.
At 3 p.m. Jan. 27, Sterbank’s ensemble, the Mark Sterbank Jazz Group, featuring Fred Wesley, will perform at Lightsey Chapel on the CSU campus. The program will include “It is Well With My Soul,” “Oh, Happy Day,” “Since I Laid My Burdens Down” and “His Eye is on the Sparrow.”
Trumpeter Charlton Singleton, known for his arrangements, is working on “Lord I Want to be a Christian,” Sterbank said. Trombonist Wesley, former James Brown band leader, will contribute arrangements, as will Sterbank, who plays saxophone.
Other players are Tommy Gill on piano, Quentin Baxter on drums and Herman Burney Jr. on bass.
Sterbank said favorites from previous concerts also will be featured. Listen out for “In the Garden,” “Wade in the Water” and “Speak to My Heart,” a song made popular by contemporary gospel singer Donnie McClurkin.
“We’re looking forward to an afternoon of enthusiastic swing in celebration of familiar and beloved gospel favorites,” Sterbank said.
A major reason this band can take on such a varied repertoire is the chemistry it has developed over the years playing together. Burney is traveling from Washington, D.C., for the concert. Wesley, a Mobile, Ala., native, is coming from Manning, where he lives.
“It feels like a family,” Sterbank said. “Everyone has a love for one another and the music. The excitement of seeing each other and playing together is fantastic. I only see Fred (Wesley) once or twice a year and Herman (Burney) not as much as that; but we have a very close bond.”
All the band members are believers who grew up in church.
Sterbank said one of the reasons they work together so well is the fact that they all value what they believe in and what they do for a living.
The bond is strong and has a sense of purpose. “It’s about combining faith and vocation,” Sterbank said, “and just using the vehicle of jazz for the expression of the music that’s really American traditional music, in a sense.”
The band has fun and experiences personal and professional fulfillment.
“If you wonder why I do it, it’s the joy of playing,” Sterbank said. “When the group gets together, it’s just a celebration of the musical gifts we have and a celebration of the music.”

Trombonist will join in ‘Hymns & Spirituals’

The Post and Courier

Mark Sterbank’s jazz hymns and spirituals concerts have been a big hit over the last couple of years, and the next one looks like that trend will continue.
Billed as Hymns & Spirituals III, the feature this time is new arrangements by trombonist Fred Wesley, a member of Sterbank’s sextet, the Mark Sterbank Jazz Group, since the band started in 2005.
“It is a privilege and an honor to feature a musician of Fred’s caliber on this concert,” Sterbank said. “But not just for the bluesy, soulful lines he plays or the penetrating sincerity of his tone. It is the transparency of his expression, the ability to display his whole heart through the music. He has a big heart and generously shares the energy, emotion and thoughtfulness that defines his character both musically and personally. It is my joy to share the stage with him.”
The band has made its solid reputation on songs such as “Jesus Loves Me,” “I’ll Fly Away,” “Balm of Gilead” and “The Lord’s Prayer.”
On Sunday at 3 p.m. at Charleston Southern University’s Lightsey Chapel, Sterbank will introduce songs new to the band’s repertoire and some new arrangements, highlighted by Wesley’s contributions.
“Right now, I’m looking at ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’ and ‘Soon I’ll Be Done With the Troubles of the World,’ ” Wesley said in a telephone interview last week from his home in Manning.
He said he was inspired to do a version of the latter when he heard it sang at the Dec. 30 funeral of the legendary James Brown where he performed. Wesley led the famous Fred Wesley and the JB’s, Brown’s band, in the 1960s and ’70s.
“I also know that tune from my father’s choir,” he said. “So when I heard it, I said I should do an arrangement of that for this concert.” Wesley grew up in Mobile, Ala., where his father led choirs and bands. “I’m not all that spiritual a person, but I know that there is something that moves the world. … I don’t know what that is, but I do like spiritual music. This music has opened my eyes and my heart.”
Accompanying Sterbank and Wesley Sunday for the free concert will be drummer Quentin Baxter, bassist Herman Burney Jr., trumpeter Charlton Singleton and pianist Tommy Gill.
Wesley, who still plays all over the world, loves playing with this band. He has his own group and he still records, but playing with the Charleston area ensemble is a blast for him. He said, “We started out as a kind of experiment. My band periodically plays but when I play with Mark, it comes together so good.”
The group last played together for East Cooper Baptist Church’s Concerts for a Cause on Nov. 19. It knocked everybody’s socks off. The band had a great time.
“It was an exciting, electric atmosphere filled with the joyful abandon that accompanies this group whenever we get together,” Sterbank said.
“The audience, made up of all ages, seemed to hang on every note. A good time was had by all.”

Jazz, sacred music to come together in church concert

The Post and Courier
Mark Sterbank stood straight and tall, exuding, through his gait and the music he played, a reverence for the unseen but not unknown.
His tenor saxophone spewed notes and phrases that acknowledged his faith in the creator’s love.
He was the lead solo instrumentalist in pianist Tommy Gill’s quartet that performed all four movements of jazz tenor great John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” last year at the College of Charleston.
And at 7 p.m. next Sunday, Sterbank will reprise his own sacred music jazz sextet for a performance in East Cooper Baptist Church’s series, “Concerts for a Cause.”
The annual series is put on by the church’s Worship Ministry, led by Todd Jenkins, associate pastor of worship. The event is the church’s second Thanksgiving concert.
There is no admission cost for the concert. It is designed to benefit the Lowcountry Food Bank. Audience members are asked to bring canned goods, especially meat, fruit and vegetables, to contribute to the food bank.
“It’s one of the great joys of my life to play hymns and spirituals with this particular group,” Sterbank said. “We have such great camaraderie and fellowship.”
The ensemble includes trumpeter Charlton Singleton, bassist Herman Burney Jr., percussionist Quentin Baxter, Gill, Sterbank and trombonist Fred Wesley, former leader of James Brown’s R&B band.
The group has performed to critical and popular acclaim the last two years in the Sunday Concert Series held by Charleston Southern University where Sterbank teaches.
He thoroughly enjoyed playing Coltrane’s homage, but he sees what his group is doing as a little different.
“My perspective is different from Trane’s. The way I view my gift, I feel that I’ve been given a gift to play music, and I want to play to the best of my ability, to give a gift to the giver of gifts. Jesus Christ has given me the opportunity to have this relationship with him. From reading Trane on the album (notes), I don’t know if his perspective is the same.
“But the spirit that we have when we play together, we’re able to bring to something like a love supreme. I guess it’s similar to what happens when we play the hymns and spirituals. To be specific, the context of our hymns and spirituals is more specific and the one for ‘A Love Supreme’ is more general.”
Wesley, a Mobile, Ala., native now living in Manning, said he loves playing in the group.
“It’s been real good. I’m surprised how easily these things come together. The band has been fantastic.”
Sterbank sees no contradiction between jazz and sacred music.
“I think it brings encouragement to folks and that’s a part of my mission: to use the hymns and songs to encourage believers,” he said. “Jazz music is an uplifting music. It makes people feel good. The combination of the message of the gospel, the excitement of this style of music and the interaction between the musicians is a real uplifting experience for the listener.”
The program will include “Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus,” “The Old Rugged Cross,” “Wade in the Water,” “Let Us Break Bread Together, “Ain’t That Good News” and “Balm in Gilead.”
The church’s series began in 2005 and has featured artists such as Tim Zimmerman and the King’s Brass, the Blackwood Brothers and the children’s choirs from St. Philip’s Church in downtown Charleston.
It has raised money for several local organizations, including The Low Country Crisis Pregnancy Center, Water Missions International and the Down Syndrome Association of the Low Country.
East Cooper, a Southern Baptist church, is 32 years old. It’s large and has a membership from around the Lowcountry.
“On a typical Sunday, we’ll have 1,800 people with about 400 children in the nursery,” said Jenkins, who came to the church two years ago from Brevard College.
“Mark is a super nice guy and his faith is important to him,” Jenkins said. “That’s one of the reasons we’re having him here. I met him right after I came to Charleston. … I’ve had him here at the church for clinics. He’s a great teacher and a great musician.”
Music is very important at East Cooper, Jenkins said.
The church has an orchestra that plays classical and sacred music, an adult choir, a sanctuary orchestra that accompanies the choir and the congregation, a praise band and a youth praise band.
There’s also series of children’s choirs, six of them divided by age from pre-K to elementary school, as well as a special-needs choir for children who need special attention.
“It’s a church with a lot of resources. We do a lot of things and we try to do them well,” Jenkins said.
For more information on the concert or other church events, call 856-3222, ext. 249, or visit www.ecbconline.com.
Sterbank’s band will perform Hymns & Spirituals III at 3 p.m. Jan. 14 in Lightsey Chapel Auditorium on the campus of Charleston Southern University. It will feature new arrangements.

Jazz group to perform hymns, spirituals

The Post and Courier
Education takes place in all kinds of ways.
And an entertaining and uplifting lesson is set for Charleston Southern University students and anyone else who wants to come Sunday.
At 3 p.m. in Lightsey Chapel, Mark Sterbank will lead his sextet in a return engagement of jazz interpretations of hymns and spirituals. It’s called Hymns and Spirituals II.
The concert is free. It will last about an hour and a half.
Sterbank, a saxophonist and instrumental artist-in-residence at CSU’s Horton School of Music, is reprising one of the most successful performances in Horton’s Sunday Concert Series last year. “Reaction to it was overwhelmingly positive,” he said. “We got a lot of feedback and interest in it. Hence, we’re doing it again. The university estimated about 500 or 600 people came last year. All the musicians really enjoyed putting the music together and playing it.
“They were very enthusiastic about doing it again.”
Joining Sterbank are percussionist Quentin Baxter, pianist Tommy Gill, trumpeter Charlton Singleton, bassist Herman Burney Jr. and the legendary Fred Wesley, trombonist and former band leader for James Brown.
The ensemble was well-received last year. Barbara Braithwaite, a retired West Ashley resident, was there.
“I’m certainly looking forward to this year’s concert,” she said. “That’s how much I enjoyed last year’s.”
She thought the band’s treatment of the traditional sacred music was contemporary but respectful.
“The modernization of the songs had the performance sort of veering from the traditional ways of playing them in a way that did not offend your religious sensibilities.”
Sterbank hopes students will get the same effect Braithwaite did.
“While it is always educational for students to hear live music, this is an excellent opportunity for them to see the versatility of the jazz style as a vehicle for personal expression. Just as the hits of Tin Pan Alley were used by jazz musicians and transformed into ‘standards,’ so, too, the songs of the faith can be presented in the jazz style without diminishing the meaning or feeling in the original composition. Jazz provides the musicians a platform for personal expression and adds new meaning and feeling to the original compositions.”
This year’s repertoire includes: “Victory in Jesus,” “Just Over in the Glory Land,” “In the Garden,” “Amazing Grace,” “Near the Cross,” “Ezek’el Saw de Wheel,” “Amen, Let Us Break Bread Together,” “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” and “I Want to Be Ready.”
The concert, the first in this year’s Sunday Concert Series, is personal for Sterbank.
“As artist-in-residence at the school, I’m to perform. I love to perform. More specifically, it’s an intersection of my faith and my vocation. I love playing jazz music. The hymns of faith are very important to me and have very deep spiritual meaning.
“It brings about a profound joy. I can’t think of anything that makes me happier.”

Mark Sterbank Jazz Group lifts spirit at Lightsey Chapel concert

Of The Post and Courier Staff

The Mark Sterbank Jazz Group made a joyful noise unto the Lord last Sunday as it wound its way through 13 sacred selections and an encore that delighted some 300 people at Charleston Southern University’s Lightsey Chapel.
The music swung as hard as the cold wind blew outside that day. At the same time, the program was warm and inviting, offering familiar and not-so-familiar hymns and spirituals arranged by various members of the sextet gathered by Sterbank, instrumental artist-in-residence at CSU’s Horton School of Music.
Starting promptly, drummer Quentin Baxter walked to the front of the stage to announce, “Must Jesus bear the cross alone?”
He spoke other phrases and Bible quotes, rhythmically answering himself with a tambourine and invoking a musical response from the band’s frontline, with Sterbank on saxophone, Charlton Singleton on trumpet and trombonist Fred Wesley, a special guest of Sterbank’s widely known for his association with James Brown, his studio work and leading funk groups.
Baxter then lined verses from a hymn book with the whole band, ably rounded out by Tommy Gill on piano and Herman Burney Jr. on bass, responding with improvisational musical strains from tunes such as “Amazing Grace” and “Give Me That Old Time Religion.”
It was church right from the beginning.
As was the entire repertoire Sunday, the way the band chose to start strongly hinted at traditional Lowcountry praise practices.
The opening call-and-response moved from a one-clap rhythm, to two-clap, then three, then bursting forth with modernity as it imbued its old-school foundation with the jazz feels of blues, swing and bop.
An appreciative audience made up of students, jazz fans, seniors and musicians roared its approval at the end of the uninterrupted, 90-minute set.
Other offerings included “Jesus Loves Me,” a blues shuffle with Sterbank laconically soloing over an in-the-pocket groove established by the rhythm section, “Wade in the Water” and even a contemporary gospel tune, Donnie McClurkin’s “Speak to My Heart,” arranged by Wesley for the performance.
“Balm of Gilead” was beautifully rendered with Baxter using mallets and Burney lyrically bending notes the way Ron Carter does. “I’ll Fly Away” soared at a bebop pace with Gill sounding like Bud Powell and Max Roach invading Baxter’s soul as he rode the bass drum with one foot, the high hat cymbal with the other, the snare drum and tom-tom with one hand and the tambourine with the other.
The ensemble played with dynamism and balance.
All the songs were played with deep emotion and utter reverence.
Gill and Burney turned in a duet on “The Lord’s Prayer” that was absolutely stunning. Burney led with strong, even tones played legato with little or no vibrato, clear and effective in its simplicity.
Gill’s obbligatos floated above Burney’s lower register meanderings. Burney made the bass fiddle sound like a cello on this one.
All of these players demonstrated their long-held technical virtuosity.
Their collective work served to uplift. It’ll be hard for Sterbank to top this next year.
The next jazz program in the Horton School of Music Sunday Concert Series is a performance by the CSU Jazz Band and Jazz Combo, both led by Sterbank, on March 20 at 3 p.m. at Lightsey Chapel.
The series’ next program is Jan. 30 at 3 p.m. at Lightsey when Regina Helcher and Friends (CSU flute faculty) perform.