By Duffy Zimmerman and Brianne Ledda
Jimmy Eagan lives only two blocks away, but he never walked into Island Christian Church before Saturday, April 13.
The church in Port Jefferson was hosting its first spring jazz night with the Joy Spring Jazz Quintet, the same band that performs at the village’s annual Christmas-themed Dickens Festival. Eagan was walking past and the pastor’s personality – a gentle giant, he said – drew him in.
“I grew up in the Village and was always curious and he said come to Jazz Night,” Eagan said. “I said when is it? And he said now.”
The jazz night is one of several events that the church hosts per week besides services, including religious classes and peer groups for various youth, adults and veterans. The church’s goal, according to its website, is “to worship the living God, grow in our faith, connect with one another and reach out in Jesus’ name to Long Island and beyond.”
“Music is something that joins people together,” Dawn Schiraldi, one of the two event chairpersons, said. “How better to be a part of the fabric of our community but to offer the community a place to come and enjoy a church setting, some clean family fun, and get to know the people? Our goal is to be able to have good relationships with our community. And that’s why we’re here.”
The band tried to make spring rebirth and Easter resurrection – in honor of the holiday celebrating Jesus’s resurrection on April 21 – a backdrop to the concert, saxophonist Louis Nicolosi said. Religious undertones aren’t unusual in the genre; jazz artists have borrowed hymns and gospel songs, and composed religious music for the past century, according to a 2010 research paper by David Stowe, a religion studies professor at Michigan State University.
“I’ve done a lot of performances at churches myself, and you know, although it’s labeled jazz, if you dig deep there’s a lot of jazz legends who considered their music to be very spiritual and very much so connected to a god,” Thomas Manuel, the founder of the jazz museum, education and performance center known as The Jazz Loft, said. “I think that’s part of the reason why jazz speaks so powerfully, is because it does have that deep spiritual connection.”
For Island Christian Church, jazz is a way to bring people together. They’ve had other music nights, with classical music and Christian bands, but the church’s pastor, Peter Jansson, said that jazz has been the most successful.
“[The jazz night is] a recognition that a church and a community, as we are, right on East Main Street, has the opportunity to either be inclusive and only deal with people that walk in through our doors, or to actually reach out into the community and be more involved,” Jansson said. “Our choice is the latter – to be involved, to provide opportunities for people to just enjoy a nice Saturday night with music and food.”