COLUMBIA — Traditional Christmas music is getting jazzed-up for a third year as “Bending Towards the Light: A Jazz Nativity” returns to Columbia’s First Baptist Church. The performance infuses jazz and jazzed-up carols with the story of the birth of Jesus.
“I never thought we would do this two years, so bringing it back for a third year was a great surprise,” said Ed Rollins, music director of the First Baptist Church and the man who brought the jazz nativity to Columbia.
Snow caused some people to miss the performance last year, Rollins said, and there has been a more general urging from the community to bring back the show. Also, saxophonist Neil Ostercamp, who grew up in the church and participated in the first two jazz nativities, might be heading out of town next year.
“This could also be my last year living in Columbia as I will be completing my master’s in saxophone performance in May,” Ostercamp said. “You never know — this could be the last time I do the show, so I want to make it great.”
Ostercamp, who said he has met his closest friends through music and he feels a special bond with this year’s performance group, will play multiple roles in the production.
“This gives me the opportunity to express myself as a chamber musician as well as an improviser with some of the more familiar Christmas carols,” Ostercamp said. “(The jazz nativity) also allows me to play a style of music that I love and tell a great story that I really believe in.”
Lindsey Lang, a graduate student at MU studying choral conducting who has participated in the jazz nativity for its three years in Columbia, said part of the performance’s popularity is due to its unique way of telling a familiar story.
“We are often forced to go see our children dressed as shepherds and angels in nativity scenes at our local churches,” Lang said. “But we’re often, frankly, bored out of our minds. ‘Bending Towards the Light: A Jazz Nativity’ makes this tradition a lot more fun because it puts the story to the music of jazz, which is innately entertaining and provocative.”
In the end, Rollins said, what brings people to the show is the story of the Nativity with “inherently joyful” jazz music. This year’s production includes five new instrumentalists, four new singers, new dancers and several staging changes.
“This time of year, people want to relive the good news of hope that Christ brings,” Rollins said. “Toes will tap, and hearts will be lifted.”