"It's not a polite church festival...no one is kneeling when these guys are playing," says Paul English, co-founder of the Trinity Jazz Festival. And while patrons of the midtown church likely will not be genuflecting before the artists, maybe they should be. Thou shalt not worship idols. But what about when saxophonist Tia Fuller is playing a venue of only 500 people when she also sells out arenas for 60,000 in concert with Beyonce? What about beholding Latin Grammy-winning flutist Nestor Torres in close quarters? And all for $35 a night? Can I get a Hallelujah?
Like cream rising to the top, Trinity Jazz Festival has grown from grassroots to a field of lavender on the national scene. From Jan 28 through Jan. 30, it includes evening performances with the aforementioned headliners, in addition to performances from a local guitarist, a top jazz vocalist and English himself, and master classes taught by these greats during the days for students and professionals. The events culminate in a Sunday "Jazz Mass."
Like many urban churches, Trinity had a checkered history in terms of congregational size and support. Father William B. Morris saw the festival as an all-inclusive means of reviving it: "racially, ethnically and demographically," says English. In addition, the two really wanted to make Trinity a haven for the arts.
Unlike many festivals, they've clung to this core mission. The only thing that's changed about the Trinity Jazz Festival is its notoriety. Expansion is a topic that's been thrown around, then discarded. English says a bigger space would reduce the quaint conversation that takes place between artist and audience. The programming would "lose its charm."
When asked about venue size and preference, Fuller said it's easier tap into the intimiate conversation between musician and audience when it's smaller, but she could go either way. "As long as the spirit in the room and the energy is right," she says.
It was Morris who reached out to the vixen-saxophonist. Her career of late has been on such a tear that English jokes it's likely the festival won't be able to afford her in 2012. Fuller is part of the reason that he calls this year's festival the best ever. (Little does she know that every musician that's ever played Trinity has asked to come back.)