Jazz Vespers at The American International Church, London

The monthly Jazz Vespers series at the American International Church in Tottenham Court Road, London, led by Director of Music Scott Stroman, takes place on the fourth Wednesday of each month. It is inspired by the long-running event at St. Peter’s Church in New York City New York. The next London event is on 25 October with special guests the Gabriel Garrick Quartet. Featured artist on 29 of November will be guitar great Jim Mullen. And on 20 December there will be a Jazz Carol Service. All events are free to attend. Feature. by Kai Hoffman

Scott Stroman, 2023. Photo credit Sisi Burn

Jazz is a music which is mainly performed at night – and jazz musicians are notorious night owls, often out playing until the early hours of the next day. With that in mind, Pastor John Gensel, at St. Peter’s Church in New York City, created an evening Jazz Vespers event for the community back in 1965, because getting up at 8am for a service wasn’t likely to happen anytime soon. With musicians and visitors including Duke Ellington, Thelonius Monk, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Sheila Jordan and many others, the Jazz Vespers Service – which continues to this day in Manhattan – created a place for contemplation, reflection and support for the jazz community, both on and off the stage, whilst touching on everything from traditional jazz and gospel to rock, folk and more.

With a similar ethos at heart, the monthly Jazz Vespers series at the American International Church in London, led by director of music Scott Stroman, aims to create the same environment for lovers and practitioners of the jazz idiom.  Each month, specially selected guest artists are given the stage to create, to improvise, and to hang out with all who choose to attend this special gathering.

The event takes place in a church, but it is more of a meeting of like-minds, centred around the music, for these very unique Wednesday evening events. “There is a moment for reflection, you can join together in community for a selection of songs, but it is not ‘church’ as such,” Stroman says. The event description says it brilliantly: “Jazz is open, fluid, and improvisational. Musicians reach out to each other and find new art and music in the ways that they play together. You could say the same about spirituality and faith. And so this service centres on the music with spiritual reflection.” 

Scott Stroman, then Head of Jazz at Guildhall School of Music, was approached in 1984 by Lutheran Pastor Ronald Englund about creating a Jazz Vespers series in London. Still active as an educator at the Guildhall, this busy composer, performer, and conductor brought the event to the American International Church in 2022. As the Director of Music, Stroman also curates an eclectic program of music for the Sunday services at the church in addition to a variety of concerts and outreach projects. 

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The Jazz Vespers program at the American International Church is scheduled on a monthly basis, usually the fourth Wednesday of the month. The series features a host of headline names from across the jazz spectrum, currently supported by pianist Liam Dunachie, as well as ensembles like the close-harmony Guildhall Jazz Singers and more.

Each month, the specially selected guest artists are given the stage to create, to improvise, and to hang out with all who choose to join in on this special service, which aims to be more of a space for community and reflection than a traditional church service. The roster of artists who have performed at London’s Jazz Vespers is long and distinguished, with recent appearances by a host of the U.K.’s top jazz industry names, including Henry Lowther, Kate Williams, Iain Ballamy, Larry Bartley, the Guildhall Jazz Singers, Scott Stroman, Kaidi Akinnibi and Alcyona Mick.

Gabriel Garrick (with Dave Green in the background). Photo credit: Sisi Burn

Coming up on Wednesday 25 October, the featured guests will be the Gabriel Garrick Quartet. Gabriel has worked with ensembles including Sir John Dankworth’s Generation Band, the Mike Garrick Jazz Orchestra, Derek Nash’s Sax Appeal Big Band, the Len Phillips Big Band and the Pete Cater Big Band, amongst many others.  

The featured artist on the 29th of November will be Jim Mullen. “One of the great Jazz guitarists working today” Jazzwise. A multi-award winner, including a special Honorary Parliamentary Jazz Award in 2017, Jim Mullen is widely regarded as one of the finest jazz guitarists in Europe. Originally from Glasgow, he made his name playing with a number of seminal bands through the 70’s and 80’s including Brian Auger’s “Oblivion Express”.

The 20th of December will be a Jazz Carol Service. The guest artist for this event is currently to be confirmed but “it’s always swinging and fun!” Stroman assures me. There will be an inspiring mix of festive tunes arranged with flair by Scott Stroman for this event. I feel it would be doing this article a disservice if I did not mention that Scott Stroman is an incredibly busy individual who inhabits many different musical roles, from Director of the London Jazz Orchestra, to artistic director of the Highbury Opera Theatre, has worked with names including Billy Cobham and Dizzy Gillespie, and has a vast library of compositions to his name. These Vespers are really something quite unique and special. 

The American International Church is at 79A Tottenham Court Road W1T 4TD.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Beginning with a song, the Jazz Vespers is a public event for all who would like to come and enjoy this music, reflect on their week and share some time with other fans and practitioners of the artform.

The Jazz Vespers series is free to attend, and everyone is welcome. A monthly, music-based celebration of community and togetherness, the doors open at 18:00 for drinks and chat, with music beginning at 18:30. There is also an open invitation to join the ad-hoc jazz choir for the evening, with a brief rehearsal beforehand at 17:30. 

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