A snazzy jazzy Nativity, coming to Morristown’s Presbyterian Church, Dec. 15

Mention jazz and Christmas, and people of a certain age automatically hear strains of Vince Guaraldi’s beloved Charlie Brown soundtrack .

But the canon does not stop there, as Matt Webb intends to prove in Morristown on Dec. 15, 2013.

Bending Towards the Light, Jazz Nativity, presbyterian church, morristown, december 2013He will be conducting Bending Towards the Light, A Jazz Nativity at the Presbyterian Church in Morristown.  If you are looking for a novel holiday experience, this may be it.

The free concert will blend jazzy renditions of Yule carols by top area jazz musicians with performances by actors and  choristers from the church. There will be tap dancing, too.

“It seems that this area has a plethora of classical musical options for Christmas, from the Nutcracker by the New Jersey Ballet across the street [at the Mayo Performing Arts Center], to local churches. But you have to go to small clubs like Shanghai Jazz [in Madison] to hear groups performing jazz with a holiday twist,” said Matt, the music director at the Presbyterian Church.

“This is a fully produced theatrical event, with a sacred message,” he said.

Bending Towards the Light, A Jazz Nativity

Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, 6 pm

The Presbyterian Church in Morristown

Free admission, free will donations accepted

Composed by singer-songwriter Anne Phillips, Bending Towards the Light premiered in 1985 and has been a holiday favorite ever since at venues like BB King’s in New York.

Matt Webb will conduct 'Bending Towards the Light, a Jazz Nativity,' at the Presbyterian Church in Morristown on Dec. 15, 2013. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Matt Webb will conduct ‘Bending Towards the Light, a Jazz Nativity,’ at the Presbyterian Church in Morristown on Dec. 15, 2013. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

A recording showcases jazz greats Lionel Hampton, Dave Brubeck and Tito Puente, with narration by the late CBS journalist Charles Kuralt.

The Morristown production will feature an ensemble with names familiar to area jazz aficonados. Rob Middleton and Anton Denner will man the saxophones, with Nicki Denner on piano, Josh Rubin on guitar, Bud Ayres on bass and Steve Hess at the drums.

Rounding out the band: Latin percussionist Pablo Bencid, trombonist Pete McIvor and his brother Christian McIvor, who will tote his trumpet all the way from North Carolina, Matt’s home state.  The aptly named Jeffrey Foote will handle the tap dancing.

Elise Figa

Elise Figa has a featured role in ‘A Jazz Nativity’ in Morristown.

Matt said he is especially excited to present homegrown talent.  Sixty voices from the church’s Chancel, Cantate Omnes and Cantus choirs will sing. And prominent roles go to church members Elise Figa (storyteller), Hanna Neil (Mary) and Mollie Kiel (dancer).

The conductor, a native of Asheville, N.C., came to the Presbyterian Church last year. Matt holds music degrees from Wake Forest and the University of North Carolina, where he is completing a doctorate.

Equally adroit on a Steinway piano or the church’s 4,000-pipe Austin organ, he will stroll across the historic Morristown Green to the neighboring Morristown United Methodist Church to perform a lunchtime organ concert on Dec. 5.

Sixth-grader Hanna Neil, a hit at Morristown's Got Talent!, will sing Sunday at a reception for Brian Cunningham, the new music director at Bethel AME Church on Spring Street. Photo by Sharon Sheridan

Hanna Neil, pictured here as a sixth-grader at Morristown’s Got Talent! in 2012, will portray Mary in ‘A Jazz Nativity.’  Photo by Sharon Sheridan

And then it’s back to preparations for the Jazz Nativity.  He said this show reflects the Presbyterian Church’s mission to reach out to diverse audiences.

“Jazz is music of the soul,” said Matt, 33.

“It arises from songs of protest, from people who have undergone persecution and hate and discrimination. This is something positive that has come of that. We see so much war and hatred in society. This is a celebratory, uplifting event.”


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