BY JACK MCCRAY
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.
BY JACK MCCRAY