“Gospel Meets Jazz: A Black History Celebration” started out as a faculty recital — one of those regular performances meant to show local music lovers what the faculty of the University of North Texas College of Music have been doing outside of the classroom but inside of their own studios.
It grew into a bash that merges perhaps two of the greatest artistic treasures developed by black musicians in America.
There’s the slow-climbing, improvisational fire of gospel music. Then there are the complex and playful rhythms of jazz.
Both forms of music are uniquely American, and both were conceived and born in the diverse culture of black America.
The faculty member who is making this mash-up happen? Saxophone man and UNT faculty member Brad Leali. Local jazz fans have gotten to know Leali though his informal concerts on the patio of Sweetwater Grill & Tavern.
The professor and musician built a concert with music from some of the greats — jazz virtuosos John Coltrane, Duke Pearson and contemporary gospel innovator Kirk Franklin (who has had UNT students nominated for Grammy Awards in the past) and the original work of pianist, composer and arranger Claus Raible.
Before Leali was finished planning the concert, he’d booked some of the UNT Jazz Singers, a slate of UNT voice students, and a gospel choir assembled by vocal jazz faculty member Jennifer Barnes.
Barnes will lead the choir in music that emulates instruments, with singers sometime singing lyrics, and other times singing to supplement the texture of the instruments.
“We’re bringing a message of unity and strength, sending a positive message and combining the two genres of gospel and jazz,” Leali said in a statement. “The roots of jazz can be found in gospel music.”
Raible arranged the music for jazz ensemble and gospel choir, and will travel to UNT from Germany for the concert.
“When you think of gospel music, you typically don’t think of a German influence, but I want to expose everyone to the fact that where you’re from is not the only thing that matters,” Leali said. “It has to do with what’s in your heart, your sense of passion and your integrity.”
The professor is reinforcing something the UNT jazz studies program demonstrated years back, when the One O’clock Lab Band traveled to Thailand only to be joined by King Bhumibol Adulyadej, an avid jazz fan and composer who sat in with the band and performed on the alto saxophone. UNT awarded the monarch an honorary doctorate for his longtime study, performance and promotion of jazz.
Raible has been working on the program for about a year, and Leali refined the concert as a whole from its origins as a concert performed at the Texas Music Educators Association convention in 2007.
For Leali, the program is much bigger than a faculty recital. It’s a tribute to the contributions black Americans made to the country’s culture — before and after the civil rights movement.
“Most of our students know something of the history, but that’s different than singing the music and feeling that tie to history. It’s one thing to learn about it in jazz history class, it’s another to bring that music to life,” Barnes said in a release.
Guests are also featured in the concert: the Rev. Cory Powell of Lubbock, who will present spoken word and Scripture during the concert; singer Darius Luckey, also of Lubbock; and Arlington Jones, artistic director for the Sammons Center for the Arts.
The concert will be a multimedia event in Voertman Hall in the UNT Music Building. Admission is free.
GOSPEL MEETS JAZZ
What: A concert celebrating Black History Month, featuring UNT faculty, students and guest artists
When: 5 p.m. Sunday
Where: Voertman Hall in UNT’s Music Building, 415 Ave. C
Details: Admission is free.
On the Web: The concert will be streamed online at http://UNTmusiclive.com .