Jazz Man | Opinion | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Jazz Man 

25 years of the "Magical" Jazz Vespers

Pin It

In 1987, when Tom Goldsmith came to Salt Lake City to be the minister of the First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City, he brought with him the memory of a jazz program he had attended in a New York City church a few years earlier. And in the 25 years since he started it in 1989, his version of Jazz Vespers—a “jazz alternative” to his Sunday-morning service—has developed a loyal following, most of whom are not Unitarians. “We opened the door to the jazz world and a whole new community came pouring in,” he recalls.

From the outset, Goldsmith had a clear idea of what he wanted Jazz Vespers to be. “Jazz Vespers is not a jazz club,” he says. “It is the means of awakening a spirit within a deeply appreciative audience.”

Over the years, that audience has responded by asking Goldsmith to officiate at jazz weddings and to conduct jazz memorials. “It is a ministry,” Goldsmith says warmly. “The musicians and I serve the jazz community, and we’re filling a real need for that demographic.”

Goldsmith has steered Jazz Vespers away from a musical style he describes as “toe-tapping” or “easy-listening.” A level of sophistication is required of the listener, he says, even when an entire program is a tribute to the likes of Bob Marley, the Rolling Stones, James Brown or Carole King, as was the case in 2013.
“It is an educated audience that listens attentively,” says Steve Keen, a prominent jazz pianist who led Jazz Vespers from 2003 to 2009.

It is also a generous audience, judging from the fact that Jazz Vespers pays its own way, through donations. “I call it the Unitarian Jazz Miracle,” Goldsmith says with a smile. “It has never cost the church a penny.”

Despite its stately colonial exterior, the First Unitarian Church is conducive to jazz, Goldsmith says, because it is an intimate space—not a big hall. On the Sunday nights devoted to Jazz Vespers, the pews fill early for the 90-minute program, made up of performances by some of the city’s best jazz musicians and Goldsmith’s often-wry commentary, which he calls “View from the Other Side of the Wasatch.” The early arrivals wait expectantly under the dimmed lights on the chandeliers, fiddling on their smartphones and reading their Kindles. The overflow crowd settles into an adjacent room to watch the performance simulcast on a big screen.

I confess to having a tin ear for jazz. I have a history with Dave Brubeck’s iconic Time Out album, and I like a few tracks on an album by Keith Jarrett gifted to me many years ago. That is the extent of my engagement with jazz.

Nevertheless, my Jazz Vespers experiences have been satisfying. Even one as untutored as I can appreciate the art of improvisation and the seamless interplay of piano, bass, sax and drums. Plus, the variety of music has its own appeal.

Keen says that he varied the sound and musical concept from week to week by rotating musicians. “If you didn’t care for the music one week, you could be sure that the following week would be nothing like it.”

“Magical” is a term Goldsmith uses often when recalling 25 years of Jazz Vespers. Magical performances have been commonplace over the years, thanks to the imprimatur of the three pianists—Vince Frates, Keen and Courtney Smith—who have successively anchored Jazz Vespers. Goldsmith estimates that since its earliest days, when the only other jazz venue in Salt Lake City was D.B. Cooper’s, 50 musicians have performed at one time or another at Jazz Vespers.

One of them, David Halliday, has been playing his sax for 13 years. Others, like vocalist Kelly Eisenhour, who now lives out of state, are returning for a special 25th-anniversary concert at the Rose Wagner Center on Feb. 9 at 7:30 p.m. KUER radio’s jazz director, Steve “Daddy-O” Williams, will emcee a program described by Goldsmith as a not-to-be-missed “mixture of history, sentiment and joy.” Songs by Glenn Miller, Junior Wells and Bono are among those on the celebratory program.

The concert is free and open to the public. “It would be an insult to charge for tickets,” Goldsmith says. 

Pin It

More by John Rasmuson

  • On Patriotic Correctness

    Armed Forces Day is a good time to take stock of your own patriotic correctness.
    • May 16, 2018
  • Ending as Beginning

    "There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, 'Morning, boys, how's the water?' And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, 'What the hell is water?'"
    • May 2, 2018
  • Good Friend, Good

    "Friend. Good."
    • Apr 18, 2018
  • More »

Latest in Opinion

  • Trumpty Dumpty's Precarious Wall

    Trumpty Dumpty is sitting on the wall—no, not his wall—and the chances are that even all the king's horses and men won't be able to salvage the wreckage.
    • Oct 16, 2019
  • Ingot We Trust: Trading Foundation Beliefs for the Luster of Gold

    (The guns were an absolute necessity—back then; no one needed a concealed carry permit, and no one questioned the premise that a man would be fully justified in killing a claim jumper or thief. In the gold fields, the law was in short supply.)
    • Oct 9, 2019
  • The Kinder Approach to Food: Birth of a Super-Vegan

    Not just any food, but the kind that just sits there growing, gawking at the sky and never taking a vacation—even venturing around the block.
    • Oct 2, 2019
  • More »


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Readers also liked…

  • American Terrorist

    We have a terrorist organization operating in the United States.
    • Jun 27, 2018
  • Safety First

    The conversation is far from over. Opponents and politicians would be wise to start showing up to the conversation prepared to listen.
    • Apr 11, 2018

© 2019 Salt Lake City Weekly

Website powered by Foundation