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From left are guitarist Joey Carano, drummer Bob Weller, bassist Gunnar Biggs, keyboardist Leonard Thompson and saxophone player Keith Bishop, who play jazz every Sunday at St. Michael’s by-the-Sea. Photo by Steve Puterski
From left are guitarist Joey Carano, drummer Bob Weller, bassist Gunnar Biggs, keyboardist Leonard Thompson and saxophone player Keith Bishop, who play jazz every Sunday at St. Michael’s by-the-Sea. Photo by Steve Puterski
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St. Michael’s free jazz concerts celebrate spirituality, music

CARLSBAD — Jazz is all things to Father Doran Stambaugh of St. Michael’s by-the-Sea Episcopal Church.

Since the early days of the pandemic, Stambaugh, a firm believer in the spirituality of music, has hosted free outdoor jazz concerts at the coastal parish, inviting some of the area’s best jazz musicians to play at the church for a “service” of sorts — heavy on the jazz, lighter on the sermon.

Now, he’s looking to grow his passion project — St. Michael’s Jazz Evensong — with an open invitation to the community to enjoy “a unique blend of exceptional jazz rooted in the context of Anglican meditation and prayer” on the church’s lawn.

“It’s something I had in my mind for years but never actually had the nerve to do it,” Stambaugh said. “It’s a combination that’s maybe not intuitive. With COVID, it made it easy to try. Jazz is such a spiritual exercise and part of it is amplifying the art form. Part of the importance of amplifying is to appreciate its roots and history. This is superior jazz.”

The current lineup features a cast of accomplished jazz musicians, including bassist Gunnar Biggs and saxophonist Keith Bishop who toured with jazz icon Buddy Rich.

Father Dornan Stambaugh of St. Michael’s by-the-Sea Episcopal Church gives a brief reading between songs during the church’s weekly jazz concert series. Photo by Steve Puterski
Father Dornan Stambaugh of St. Michael’s by-the-Sea Episcopal Church gives a brief reading between songs during the church’s weekly jazz concert series. Photo by Steve Puterski

Each week, the quintet — including guitarist Joey Carano, drummer Bob Weller and pianist Leonard Thompson — select a different jazz musician’s catalog to perform, providing the audience with a classic sound before Smooth Jazz popularized in the 1980s.

“It’s relevant and reverent,” Biggs said, who joined the band in May. “It’s just a great place to do it. I think one of the great things we got from the pandemic was alternatives. We just bring music.”

Stambaugh said he first contacted bassist Dean Davidson to kickstart the concert project, who helped connect other musicians with the church. The original musical lineup also included the late Tom Morey, a drummer and inventor of the Boogie Board (Yes, the name is inspired by Morey’s love of music).

Stambaugh encourages them to bring food and drink while enjoying the music on St. Michael’s lawn. Between songs, the pastor will also speak briefly about the history of jazz, share brief religious readings and sing hymns. But the Carlsbad cleric said his goal is not to preach, but rather to highlight the connection between music and spirituality.

As the season winds down, Stambaugh is also planning “A Jazz Family Christmas” on Dec. 18, featuring a performance by an orchestra of underserved kids and the St. Michael’s quintet.

Later this next spring, or early summer, Stambaugh also plans on a special concert featuring the music of Duke Ellington.

On a personal note, Stambaugh’s love of jazz will culminate later this month when he visits the birthplace of jazz in the legendary Tremé neighborhood in New Orleans. During his “pilgrimage,” Stambaugh will volunteer at Tremé Fest, soaking in eight hours of jazz and music.

“There’s a church called St. Augustine Catholic Church (in New Orleans) and is the first African-American Catholic church in the country,” Stambaugh said. “The festival raises money for the Tremé and St. Augustine’s and I intend to take in a lot more of the history of the roots of jazz, for sure.”

St. Michael’s Jazz Evensong concerts run from 4 to 5:30 p.m. every Sunday through Dec. 18. Performance will resume again after Mardi Gras in 2023.

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