Pascal, Matassa spread the good news
by Jason West, All
British author Jonathan Raban, in an essay first published in the Guardian
of London and recently reprinted in the Seattle Weekly, writes:
"When I first moved here, I cherished the fact that Seattle has
one of the lowest churchgoing rates in the nation, and when it does
go to church, it likes its religion to be on the cool and damp sideLutheran,
Catholic, or Episcopalian, for preference."
For purely selfish reasons I enjoyed reading "The War: Letter from
Seattle," Mr. Raban's report on my hometown's liberal, anti-war
proclivities and acknowledgment of our "cool and damp side"
with respect to organized religion. I am, in fact, more apt to commune
with the music of John Coltrane than visit a local church.
At least that's what I used to think before attending a recent Seattle
Jazz Vespers concert organized by the Seattle First Baptist Church.
There, beneath SFBC's towering Gothic spire, I was offered something
a shelf full of Coltrane discs cannot provide: an immediate, in the
moment dialogat once peaceful and pressing, captive and liberatingof
That dialog occurred March 31 at 6pm when SFBC's pulpit was occupied
by local vibraphonist Susan Pascal and her quartet featuring Randy Halberstadt
(piano), Jeff Johnson (bass), and Mark Ivester (drums). The band performed
in front of a large congregation, close to 200 people, but also an anxious
one, gathered together on this first Sunday of the war.
The musical program was chosen accordingly. Pascal's quartet performed
McCoy Tyner's "Search for Peace," Pat Metheny's "Question
and Answer" and Abdullah Ibrahim's "Water from an Ancient
Well." In addition, the setlist included two from underrated, soul-jazz
pianist Ray Bryant, whose compositions Ms. Pascal interpreted with an
discerning ear for infectious melody and a natural feel for galloping
The always lively Greta Matassa served as the quartet's guest vocalist
and proved a natural crowd-pleaser. Joining Ms. Pascal and company midway
through both sets, Ms. Matassa emboldened a sullen congregation with
her rendition of "Something to Live For" and "You Must
Believe in Spring."
The acoustics in SFBC's massive sanctuary (first built in 1910, remodeled
in 1956 and 1990) are exceptional and especially suited to Ms. Pascal's
vibraphone, allowing every bell-like note a full, resonant life before
dissolving into the air. Such sonic luxuries were lost on neither audience
nor musicians who, with Pascal and Matassa leading the way, gave inspired
I am of the opinion that music is played to be heard, making musician-audience
rapport directly proportional to the quality of a musical performance.
On that evening, as televised bombs dropped in living rooms throughout
the world, music music desperately needed to be heard. Our local musicians
humbly obliged, exchanged earnest smiles with the audience between songs,
while Ms. Matassas humorous quips ("It's been a long time
since I've sung in a place this well lit. It's like singing in my shower.")
triggered a ripple of rare, honest laughter.
At the conclusion of me first set, a collection plate for the band was
passed, and minutes later SFBCs Coordinating Pastor Dr. Stephen
Jones addressed the jazz friendly congregation. His brief sermon was
titled "The Sun Shall Shine Again" not surprising,
considering Dr. Jones is new to the precipitous Seattle area, having
moved here from Detroit one year ago. He acknowledged the dark clouds
hanging over our community and country: a slumping economy, government
debt, traffic gridlock, decreased social services and a war he personally
considers unnecessary. In specific reference to the fighting in Iraq,
Dr. Jones noted that "since the U.S. is not considered to be liberators,
but invaders, the world today appears bleak."
Bleak, yes, but not hopeless, as evidenced by a church full of Seattleites
seeking peace and salvation with their Lord in heaven or music of McCoy
Tyner, Ray Bryant and Pat Metheny.