Program celebrates Christmas with a jazzy tune

Friday, December 1, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 5:20 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Ten years ago, Ed Rollins saw a brochure for a different sort of Christmas pageant; he tucked it away for future reference. Last year, Rollins, as executive director of the Odyssey Chamber Music Series, dug the pamphlet out of his files and used it to produce “Bending Towards the Light: A Jazz Nativity.”

This weekend the program returns.

“We wanted to try again,” said Rollins, who is also associate pastor at First Baptist Church, “now that more people know (about jazz nativity).”

“Bending Towards the Light: A Jazz Nativity” tells the Christmas story in jazz, Rollins said. It features mainly familiar tunes, such as “Silent Night” and “Deck the Halls,” to tell the story, but also includes a few Bible readings and nontraditional numbers such as the title work “Bending Towards the Light.”

Rollins is directing this “stage-type” production with minimal costumes, and he also sings a solo at the beginning. Other performers include a storyteller, a 10-piece jazz combo, a vocal quartet and the First Baptist Church Chancel Choir. Individual characters including Mary, the shepherds and the wise men are represented by singers, instrumentalists and dancers.

Lindsey Lang, an MU choral conducting graduate student and a member of First Baptist Church Chancel Choir, has been involved in the Odyssey Chamber Music Series since it began in 2004. This is her second time participating in the Jazz Nativity. This year she will play the storyteller.

She said Odyssey has grown from its beginnings and thinks it is gaining in popularity.

“It’s a big deal now,” Lang said. “And, there are great people performing.”

Rollins realizes that this Christmas celebration with jazz improvisation and tap dancing is somewhat unconventional, but he finds it enjoyable. His public invitation: “Come have fun and tap your toe.”

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